The Invisible Backpack
of White Privilege
from L.L. Bean
BY JOYCE MILLER
[Originally published December 18, 2014.]
The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege is great for carrying questionable things like weed, Ponzi schemes, and sex crimes. I have lived in dense urban areas my whole life, and the cops never once search my Invisible Backpack. Then again, that’s probably just because, like people always tell me, I have a really trustworthy vibe as a person.
My roommate Sam has a visible backpack from The North Face, which he says cost him so much that he and his family are still paying for it, whatever that means. Personally, I prefer function over trend. Sam had the nerve to suggest that if I were to trade my backpack for his backpack, I’d see what he means. I told him if he’s really that dissatisfied with his own backpack, he should just return it to the store and buy one like mine instead of criticizing me all the time, because from what I can see, my backpack’s only advantage is that it comes with a more positive attitude and frugal spending habit than all the other backpacks. He got really quiet and things between us have grown uncomfortable.
The backpack also includes one or more upwardly mobile forefathers who had special opportunities to garner and accumulate family wealth during times of legalized overt discrimination against people without Invisible Backpacks. According to the L.L. Bean catalogue, my great-grandfather was “A poor country boy who put himself through Harvard in the 1800s and worked incredibly hard to build a fortune on nothing but his own merits.” I guess that’s one of the backpack’s cooler features, but it’s not like it changes the fact that I have to do the work of picking up and putting on and walking around with a backpack on my back, just like anybody else.
The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege is by no means immune to hardship. As an inner-city youth, my artist mom and small business-owner dad struggled financially with no margin for luxury. Having one of the shabbiest Invisible Backpacks at private school and college gave me a complex, and I perpetually felt like “a poor boy in a rich boy’s school,” to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In fact, The Invisible Backpack contains the complete works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, along with the Western Canon, largely written by people with my same Backpack. In rough weather, it’s handy to have a rich literary tradition to provide a validation of selfhood verging on the grandiose. Combined with a detachable Gore-Tex underdog mentality that serves to justify the backpack’s pathological egotism, it often makes me consider writing a novel of my own. Should I choose to do so, the Invisible Backpack of White Privilege comes with the instructions and encouragement to create a writing career/funny video/indie band/online satirical essay based on various unpleasant situations experienced while wearing the backpack.
The Invisible Backpack of White privilege can occasionally get pretty heavy. Its one design flaw is a hidden zipper compartment on the bottom containing anonymous multitudes slaughtered in the name of Western Civilization, yet I have no idea who these people are or where they come from. I inquired about it with an L.L. Bean customer service representative, who seemed to know nothing about the product. Thankfully, the manager was very familiar with the demands of my backpack, and explained to me that without this secret pocket, the backpack could not exist. It is a burden I complain about often, but could never imagine actually taking off.
A nice little detail about The Invisible Backpack is its built-in cosmetic mirror. The mirror enforces the basic conformity of my facial structure to an arbitrarily Caucasian globalized standard of looks. When I gaze into this mirror, it fills the void of human longing with the subconscious Pavlovian reassurance: I am a valued citizen, I can have love. Regardless of weight, age, injury, disability, a thoughtful nature, and other characteristics alienated by modern society, I can strain my features to approximate an internalized construct of what advertising defines as the default human face. I can garner instant trust and acceptance despite countless unexamined character deficiencies. Deficiencies such as always wearing a backpack, even in the shower.
All in all, The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege is a satisfactory product. To be completely honest, I kind of have trouble connecting with people who don’t own one. I’m giving 2 ½ out of 5 stars because I have really high standards. I’d give 3 stars except there’s no mesh water bottle holder on the side (wtf). I am a big fan of L.L. Bean and just ordered the Heteronormative Long Johns as a Christmas gift for my daughter.
Study: Little Progress for African-American Men on Racial Equality Since 1970
In recent years, the U.S. has celebrated the 50th anniversaries of the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act and a number of other landmark accomplishments considered pivotal in making the U.S. a better place for African Americans.
But despite a deep reverence for those accomplishments, a new studysuggests that African-American men today face such high levels of unemployment and incarceration that they are in little better position when compared with white men than a half-century ago.
The working paper, by University of Chicago researchers Derek Neal and Armin Rick, is based on preliminary findings and has not yet been peer-reviewed.
To better understand the relationship between criminal injustice system and the people of Ferguson read this article and consider this fact: three warrants are issued per household each year in Ferguson primarily for extremely minor offenses, fines are charged that people are frequently unable to pay, and all for the financial benefit of the system itself. Residents are trapped in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality, cycling in and out of courtrooms and jail cells and back again. If this were the only thing wrong with the system in Ferguson, it would be reason enough for the outrage and protests we've seen. Michelle Alexander
AMHERST, Mass (WGGB) — Racial tension was the topic of an emotional school committee meeting Tuesday night in Amherst.
It was standing room only, as dozens crowded in to support math teacher Carolyn Gardner, who has been the target of three racial slurs this school year.
“Clearly if there are those who see me as less than human than I am at risk for more attacks and who knows how that can end,” an emotional Gardner told the school committee.
The third written racial attack against her was discovered at Amherst Regional High School last week in a school bathroom, including the use of the “n” word.
“Racism thrives in silence and it is thriving here,” Gardner said.
Gardner accused school administrators of not properly handling other attacks earlier this year.
“The sluggish response of the school administrators leading up to this most recent attack is a sad indication to me that the need for racial consciousness and sensitivity is low on this administration’s list of priorities,” Gardner said.
“That’s all I need to know,” Principal Mark Jackson said. “So what I understood to be adequate, proportional, clearly she had a different interpretation of that. So my job is to pay attention to that.”
School officials pledge when Gardner is ready to return to school, she will have every resource to feel safe. Meantime, Gardner, and dozens of others say her chilling experience needs to be a launching pad to end systemic racism and integrate everyone in their community.
“This is when it’s time of us to stand up and we can not just let this pass by and let this experience be our leading moment,” ARHS sophomore Josiah Vasquez said.
“Change is hard and rarely does it come without a fair amount of angst and a fair amount of effort and some real challenge from I think the administators and the school committee, as well as the staff and students in our community,” Superintendent Maria Geryk said. “This is not easy work, but it’s the most critical work.”
The investigation into the actual attacks is still ongoing. Jackson says that the school is working with the Amherst Police Department to identify who is responsible for the hate crimes. He adds that while they are following some leads, they will leave no stone unturned so that accountability will compliment the progressive conversations the Amherst community is now engaging in.
Geryk adds that she plans to use the community members who have offered support so far to immediately review and focus on diversity sensitivity.
AMHERST, Mass (WGGB) — School administrators in Amherst have launched an investigation after racist graffiti has been repeatedly
found on school grounds. The incidents have all happened in the high school and have been targeted at one African-American teacher.
The latest hateful, racist attack sent shockwaves through the Amherst Regional High School community this week.
“Yesterday someone wrote ‘f you Ms. Gardner’ in the bathroom and then below that was the ‘n word,’” Junior Meaghan McCluskey said.
Principal Mark Jackson says that was the third time this year African-American math teacher Carolyn Gardner has been targeted by racist remarks.
“Nobody deserves that, so I think it’s really sad,” McCluskey said.
I am concerned about the decision that the jurors made regarding George Zimmerman’s innocence. The verdict is another sad and shameful day for this country. To me it was a racist decision no matter how we look at it. As a network of anti-racist organizers we have to understand that in order to make transformational change and protect our Black children, we have to begin to talk more about the benefactors of racism which are white people as a whole.
We will continue the push for justice for Trayvon Martin by encouraging the Justice Department to fully investigate this racist miscarriage of justice. At the same time we have to be aware that what has always helped the Black community get any fairness or equity has been doing anti-racist organizing.
As this country, this nation is beginning to talk about the need for having a conversation about race; we must clearly and vehemently talk about who is benefiting from racism. We have to be as loud in our protesting about how the imposition of race and racism produces benefits for white people as we are about the injustice in communities of color.
The dominant culture in this country is white. White people are in charge of everything. Yet when it comes to devising policies; procedures, and/or actions to deal with racism, white people get very confused, yet they continue to benefit from it. Therefore we as anti-racist organizers must continue this movement and protest the injustice served to Trayvon Martin and other Black youth all over this country. We also must expose the data that demonstrates the various ways white people continue to benefit from racism which is a major contributor to why black kids die and are killed daily. It is at the foundation of every system and institution that produces outcomes that have whites as a whole with better health outcomes, better employment, housing, education and a longer life expectancy.
The verdict is not an isolated incident, but one of a long history of unaccountable murders of many people of color before and since Trayvon. We understand this verdict as a manifestation of a larger system of institutionalized racism; a system that does not require mal-intent or overt oppression to function. For every murder we hear about, there are 100 men of color who are murdered without our knowing. Their sacrifice is a manifestation of how structural and institutional racism is soundly embedded in every system and institution.
We call on all communities dedicated to racial and social justice and equity to continue to protest, organize and respond to this injustice in your local communities. It is important that we do our organizing in a way that helps to strengthen our local networks and begins to prevent further murder, devastation and injustice. As anti-racist organizers we have to bring hope to our work and our communities in the wake of this tragedy. We cannot allow the media to shape our reality about what race and racism is and is not. Making sure our communities are clear about what race and racism is brings hope. Staying focused on how white people benefit from race and racism while dehumanizing us all will clarify our thinking and actions.
We know that change will only come when we organize and strengthen our network. Bringing our network together is the leverage we have to make change. Anything that we have been able to do in the past to effect change in the Black community has only been with anti-racist organizing. This must be done in a manner that strengthens our local communities in ways that are most effective. Our ability to stay together as a people is critical. We must stay together to maintain our victories. Our victories cannot be just for now, but for life. Otherwise the powers that be will take away all of the work we have done.
It is timely that we return to Washington on Saturday, August 24th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington when the work of racial equity was re-ignited. We are now called to continue the vision of building a clear and strong anti-racist movement.
We must continue to listen to our young leaders, support our young leaders and work together with our young leaders whose history has shown that together we make things happen. Black, Latino, Native and Asian Youth feel the brunt of racist structures. We also see white people joining the movement to fight for humanity and equity for all of us. We are valuable and important. We must stay strong and positive for a better future. “Racism dehumanized, Undoing Racism brings humanity back.”
Ronald Chisom , Executive Director and Co-founder of People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
Diana Dunn, Regional Organizer/Core Trainer firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Kimberley Richards, Regional Organizer/Core Trainer email@example.com
The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond
601 N Carrollton
New Orleans, La 70119
So many brilliant, heartfelt pieces have been written since Saturday's not-guilty verdict. Here are several to get you started.
From Melissa Harris-Perry:
From Bitch Magazine:
From Dr. Stiletto's Blog:
Following up on our conversation this past Saturday, I dug up the Dismantling Racism article referenced by Anne.
"This is a list of characteristics of white supremacy culture that show up in our organizations. Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify. The characteristics listed below are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being proactively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. Because we all live in a white supremacy culture, these characteristics show up in the attitudes and behaviors of all of us – people of color and white people. Therefore, these attitudes and behaviors can show up in any group or organization, whether it is white-led or predominantly white or people of color-led or predominantly people of color."
In addition to listing and explaining the characteristics of white supremacy culture, the article also includes antidotes. A must read.
I'll be adding this article as a permanent fixture to our resource page, but for now you can read it here:
And while you're there, make sure to check out the rest of the site: www.dismantlingracism.org