United States Of Common Sense

My Invisible Knapsack

White Privilege
Appalachia
Appalachia
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The Myth of White Privilege

"I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks."

- Peggy McIntosh, 1989

My father's family are Scots-Irish. They originated as Lowland Scots on the border between England and Scotland, caught in centuries long warfare between the two nations. They evolved over time into tight family units, with a strong martial character, an adaptation to a hostile and unforgiving environment. In the early 1600's they emigrated to Ireland to work the lands of English lords but found that now they were at war with the native Irish. When the colonies opened up in America they took their chance to be free and climbed onto tiny, leaky sailing vessels and made the long, dangerous voyage to America.

My relatives landed in Philadelphia, sometime in the mid-1700's. They arrived penniless. They worked at whatever jobs they could find, were functionally illiterate and accumulated little in the way of wealth. They show up mostly in the tax rolls of the time as having been excused payment due to extreme poverty. John Faddis, the earliest ancestor I can identify by name in this country, died leaving an estate that consisted of a meager collection of pots and pans and a butter churn.

Soon enough John's descendants found their way to the frontier in North Carolina where they continued to pursue the promise of freedom and equality. They fought in the War of Independence. One spent time on a hellish prison ship in Charleston harbor. They prospered for a time, but there was little room in an economy dominated by slave labor for poor white farmers, so they moved on. Some members of the family went west. My immediate family went north into Southwestern Pennsylvania in wagons over the Appalachian Mountains.

My grandfather struggled much of his life to make a living in rural Pennsylvania. He farmed. He worked as a laborer building roads. He was a carpenter in a coal mine for awhile. In 1917 he was a private in the Army on the Mexican border serving under Black Jack Pershing. By the end of the First World War he was an officer serving in France. He ran successfully for Congress in 1932 as one of FDR's New Deal Democrats. In 1942 he went back into uniform and served in the US Army in North Africa.

By war's end, my father's mother had three Blue Stars hanging in her window, one for her husband and one each for my father and his brother. My uncle served in the United States Army in the Pacific. My father graduated from the Naval Academy in 1944 and went straight to Okinawa where he won a Silver Star in action against Japanese kamikaze pilots. Before he retired in 1974 he would spend 34 years in uniform defending this nation.

I grew up with the clear understanding that whatever opportunities I enjoyed in this nation were the product of centuries of hard work and sacrifice by those who came before me. If I could reach higher, it was because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. Yet, now, two hundred and fifty years after the arrival of my family in America, I am told by left wing commentators and faux intellectuals that everything I enjoy is the product not of courage, resolve and hard work but "white privilege". My family did not earn its place in this great nation. It was handed it on a silver platter.

Like hell.

Tell me that this nation is an imperfect creation. I agree fully.

Tell me that Americans in the millions have, ever since Europeans first landed here, suffered indignity and discrimination based on color, ethnicity, religion, gender, political affiliation and sexual identification and all I can say is "Amen, now let's get to work fixing it."

Don't tell me that generations of men and women who forged this nation out of nothing with their own blood, sweat and tears were somehow the beneficiaries of privilege. Don't tell me that my mother, who was born in a house the size of a chicken coop in 1922, pregnant and married by 17 and didn't finally get her high school diploma until over fifty years later when she went back to school was handed anything in life because of the color of her skin.

Fifty years ago now a very brave man, a man who ultimately paid with his life for his convictions, told this nation that he "had a dream". That dream was not of a nation separated into tribes based on differences. It was of a nation in which we ceased to obsess over matters of race and creed and united around the common understanding that we were all Americans. I pray to God that we all continue to share that dream, stop focusing on things that divide us and focus anew on those that unite us.

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Updated Aug 7, 2018 11:57 AM EDT | More details

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