Does the “White Privilege” Umbrella cover Black and Biracial Children? (Survey included)

Baby 1966This is the first post I have written soliciting responses to a survey—so I’m stating it up front: At the end of this post is an actual, honest-to-goodness survey for those who are interested and who fit the demographics* I’m looking for.

So, what is this about “White Privilege?” Sounds kind of political, kind of threatening, no?

The first time I heard the term “White Privilege,” I was in my late twenties and teaching at a very exclusive, private girls’ school on the Upper East Side of New York. Peggy McIntosh, PhD., the feminist, antiracism activist and associate director of the Wellesley College Women’s Project, had been brought in by the Parents’ Diversity Awareness Committee of said school. McIntosh, who is white, was there to discuss her famous paper, White Privilege, Unpacking the Invisible Backpack, as part of a workshop for staff, parents and students about the ways in which whites unwittingly benefit from racism on a daily basis.

I was fascinated as McIntosh described white privilege as an

invisible package of unearned assets which [she could] count on cashing in each day, but about which [she] was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.

However, as she began to list these assets and privileges, I found myself thinking: hold on a minute—I grew up with a lot of those assets and I’m not white! What gave?

As I thought it over, I realized that, as a child—regardless of my color—I had walked through the world in the care and company of a white mother. I had un-harassed entry into upscale department stores and swimming pools. Most everywhere I went, people had treated me with the same respect they paid my mother.

When McIntosh went on to list the ways in which her skin tone worked in her favor:

“I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented …When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is … Whether I [use] checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.… I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, withouthaving people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

I started to see her point. Okay, maybe all of those privileges hadn’t been mine, but under the umbrella of my mother’s whiteness, the world had been a different, more accepting, place than it might have been otherwise.

When I was alone with my father, we visited restaurants  and little shops in Harlem—which was mostly black at the time. It was a world apart from the Englewood, New Jersey pool club my mother’s friend belonged to, where Mom and I went almost every day in the summer. As a child, I felt equally welcome in both places. However, if the whole family had shown up together in either location, there might have been stares or even questions.

My father taught me to be aware—and sometimes wary–of racism, that I might be treated differently because of my color. But my mother took me everywhere; the hostility, if there was any—was subtle enough for me not to notice. I believed I belonged anywhere my mother did.

The stories of black and biracial children raised by white parents are as varied as humanity itself. I know my own, but am curious about others. For this reason I’ve started a project I’m calling Under the “White Privilege” Umbrella: Children of Color in their White Parents’ World.

As part of the project I have created a survey where I ask adults of color, like myself, who were raised by at least one white parent, to reflect on their childhoods. My purpose is to understand the experience of growing up black or biracial** in the care and company of a white parent, to learn whether–and how–any of us benefited from the day to day privileges our white parents might have experienced.

*If you are between the ages of 18 and 70, identify as biracial or mixed, the product of a white parent and a black parent, or if you are adopted, either black or biracial/black-white, and raised by white parents, interracially married parents (one of whom is white), or by a single, white parent), I would love to hear from you.

Please note, I have no hypothesis to support and no political agenda. And here is the link to my survey.

**The reason I’m only including black and white in this project–at first at least–is to understand whether parental “white privilege,” dilutes the very specific biases directed toward blacks.

16 responses to “Does the “White Privilege” Umbrella cover Black and Biracial Children? (Survey included)

  1. Interesting survey Lisa. I don’t fit any of the boxes but I hope you get lots of replies.

  2. Fascinating Lisa. I will be interested to see the results. I have my own thoughts on the subject, both of White Privilege itself, which I have written about and whether it extends.

  3. I hope you get a lot of responses from people who fit your demographic, Lisa!

    If I may speak on the Asian face side: sometimes Asian-North Americans are seen as no different IF: they don’t speak English with an accent, have an Anglo-like first name and display mannerisms that are completely North American-white.

    There was a study done in Canada (and probably elsewhere), the likelihood of being seleted for job interviews based on a last name that seemed “Anglo” vs. “foreign” sounding. Pretty negative: preference for Anglo sounding for “comfort” level of a lot of recruiters.

    I do think my half-Asian-Caucasian nieces and nephews do have the benefit, privilege of choosing to be white and hide their Asian roots, if they wish, because when you look at them, they do look quite white.. except for 1 niece who clearly has almond shaped (green-hazel) eyes. They all carry their Caucasian fathers’ last names.

  4. Thanks, Jean. So true that there are similar issues for Asians and those of Asian descent. I think your cousins probably have very different experiences from children adopted from China, Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia by Caucasian parents. That would be an interesting comparison in itself.

  5. Yes, I agree adopted children from Asia by Caucasian parents would a different experience than biracial North American born and raised children.
    See here and different complex problems as you may be aware already:

    • Thanks for the link, Jean!

      • This adopted Tawainese woman has a blog. She was adopted by white Americans. They told her she was Vietnamese, but she was not! Thus she begins her journey.

        She’s working towards to her degree in social work.
        I honestly think that to be racially different as an adoptee is tough journey also, no matter how loving the adoptive parents are. I always wondered at the time of the Vietnamese boat refugee crisis and the airlift of the “orphaned” babies…I was in university here in Canada at the height of the news media splash internationally.

        I know how complicated things can be with my birth parents, never mind not knowing your own roots!

  6. Pingback: Mixed Race Studies » Scholarly Perspectives on Mixed-Race » Does the “White Privilege” Umbrella cover Black and Biracial Children? (Survey included)

  7. If you LOVE your children, you should WANT them to share your “white privilege.” Why would you want your children to suffer unnecessarily?

  8. I am interested in this as well. Although, I am married to a Korean national and I have 2 daughters both in public schools here in SK. I have experienced blatant racism aimed at voth my children and my wife in both Korea and when traveling to the US. The interesting thing is that it usually doesn’t happen if my wife is not with us. In Korea they just assume they are white even though they are clearly also Korean.

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