Chapter 13: Invisibility
“Discrimination and privilege are flip sides of the same coin.”
The author examines how it is that white people can be so unaware of their own privilege and unsympathetic to racism.
[White man, in a race equity seminar]
“I just don’t see [privilege] unless someone else points it out to me, …and then I feel like, “Duh, why couldn’t I see that on my own?”
[Black man responding]
“Maybe it’s because you don’t want to see it.”
The author does a reasonable job of showing how predictable and understandable it is that each person in that conversation could grow up feeling the way they do: the white speaker so oblivious, and the black speaker so frustrated that he can ignore so many obvious things that happen every day, and convinced it must be an intentional or malicious act.
She discusses the very different experiences that black people and white people have in many common situations: shopping, applying for a loan, walking down the street. How your own experience becomes the “default” experience that you assume “everyone knows.”
“It’s hard to imagine something you don’t experience firsthand, especially when it is so counter to your own experiences….Until I have a clear idea of what racial discrimination looks and feels like, I can’t imagine how the lack of it affects my life.”
This statement ties in tightly to her realization that the “extra” she enjoys in life constitutes resources that are unavailable to someone who has “less than is needed.”
She goes on to discuss a video from 1991 in which two men – John (white), and Glenn (black) – pursue common activities from renting an apartment to buying a car. The two individuals are identical on paper – only their skin sets them apart.
The Study Question
Write ten words that describe how Glenn (the black man) is treated.
Write ten words for how John (white man) is treated.
Which customer service experiences feels more like yours?
Glenn’s experiences more closely mirror my childhood and early adulthood. Followed by store staff who were convinced I was a shoplifter and pushed toward “subprime” car loans and the junker cars that the salesman couldn’t sell, I empathized with Glenn and the people who either treated him like a mark, or considered him beneath their notice.
As I have aged and my fiscal status has improved, I have been amazed at the difference in experience. I bought a brand new car 9 years ago – preapproved in less than an hour by my credit union and courted by the car salesmen. The difference is eerie and unsettling to me.