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The Gift (or Curse) of Ancestry

March 31, 2011

Yesterday I read an article (White Privilege by Peggy McIntosh about what it actually means to be a white woman.  Really struck a chord for me.  I used to think of myself as a decent humanitarian–and I guess for the most part, I still do… but a few things about what she had to say really rattled me.  (If you read the article and you’re anything like me then you’ll know what I mean.)  I thought I was this super altruistic person who wanted to stick it to the man in every way possible: redefine stereotypes, defy the norm, embrace the un-embraced, save the world, un-Americanize myself.  But when I read the list of what it actually means for me to be who I am, at least outwardly, I realized that maybe I don’t actually want to give up all that comes with being a white female American.

I am a WASP (white anglo-Saxon protestant, for those of you not up on the lingo) who was born in the USA.  The power to command any room I walk into was given to me at birth (which I have compounded with my E-type personality to really amplify my birth-given ‘right’).  It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to a room full of my roommate’s Indian friends or to the man who eradicated Smallpox, no one will ever dismiss me for being a white female (that’s not to say they won’t flee from me for another reason).

I have been asked since I can remember ‘what I want to be when I grow up,’ because truth be told, I can be (and always could be) anything I want regardless of my parents’ careers or the education (and tuition) required.

People will always equate me to wealth, prosperity and opportunity.  They will look up to me; they will assume (if only subconsciously) that I have ample resources to distribute.

I don’t necessarily want to give up all of the things that come with being who I am.  Does that make me a bad person? At first I thought it made me fake, but then I realized that it just makes me real, human.

If I have children (when I grow up), they will have the same opportunities that I had.  What will make my precious darlings any different from the precious darlings sitting on the disintegrating dock in Les Cays, Haiti? The fact that they will be born with me as their mom.

This isn’t fair and I don’t like it.  But a friend pointed out that it is possible to use these attributes to drive more action and bring about more change.  So I think I’ll do that.

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