In the 1980s, Peggy McIntosh, a Wellesley professor, was working with a group of colleagues, both male and female. She kept noticing the privileges these male friends of hers took for granted and how they couldn't seem to see it even when their female colleagues drew their attention to it.
One day, she had an aha moment: If my male colleagues have unearned privileges and benefits that I as a woman don't have (and they can't see), perhaps I as a white person have similar privileges that my colleagues of color don't have (and I can't see). As an experiment, she began keeping a list, recording social benefits that she could count on, but that she was pretty sure the people of color she worked with couldn't count on.
Her 1989 essay, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" has become essential reading for understanding how race works in American society.
Making your own white privilege list can cause a permanent shift in awareness.
Here's my attempt at one related to the field of children's books:
As a children's book reader -
1. In any mainstream bookstore across the country, I can be certain to find children's books with protagonists from my race.
2. On the jacket flaps of children's picture books and novels, if there is an author/illustrator photo, I can expect that the majority of the creators will be of my race.
3. Purchasing a gift for a white child of my acquaintance, I never have to wonder if I can find an appropriate book with characters who look like her.
4. If that child imagines herself as a princess/magician/pirate/astronaut, I can find a book to feed her dreams with characters of her race.
5. If a child I love struggles with an issue of any kind - fear of monsters, grief or loss, tantrums - I can be pretty sure there's a book out there to help him starring a boy he could imagine to be himself.
6. Reading books that are wildly popular - Harry Potter, Twilight - I never have to wonder why there's no one in them who looks like me.
7. If race is not mentioned in a children's novel, I can usually assume that the characters in it are the same race as I am.
8. I've never had the experience of reading a book about people of my race by an author of a different race and discovering it to be full of stereotypes, misunderstandings, and ignorance about white people.
As a children's book creator -
9. Attending children's book conferences, book fairs and conventions across the country (except for those specifically multicultural in design), I know that the majority (here in New England, usually about 99%) of the authors, illustrators, editors, agents and other professionals attending will be of my race.
10. Submitting a book I've written or illustrated to a publisher, I can be pretty sure that an editor will judge my work based on its literary merits and/or marketability. I never have to wonder if an editor will reject it simply because they have no experience or understanding of the cultural and racial framework I'm working from and/or don't value it.
11. If I write a book with a protagonist of my own race, I can be certain that the publisher will not change the character's race on the jacket to improve sales.
12. When a book of mine is reviewed, I can expect that most reviewers will be people whose own race and life experience won't make it impossible for them to understand what I've created.
I welcome additions to this list, as well as questions and challenges.