When I wrote my last entry on being “poor in spirit,” I planned to follow it with a comparison of Jesus’ experience with our society’s “poor in cash.” I still plan to get to that discussion. But before I do, I am taking a detour, with an invisible knapsack on my back.
Those of you who are anti-racist activists will already be familiar with the “invisible knapsack.” It is the packet of unearned privileges that white Canadians like me carry. I know, for example, that when makeup is advertised as “flesh coloured,” it means the colour of my flesh. When I am late for a meeting, my tardiness is not attributed to my race. The list goes on and on.
Many years ago, I discovered I carried another invisible knapsack — the privilege of class. I had been babysitting the children of a friend who was on welfare. On her dining room table was a report from her social worker, discussing her continued eligibility for assistance. Embedded in this report was this stunning sentence: “Ms. Smith seems to actually be quite intelligent.” It’s the “actually” that got me. I marched home, and came up with a list of privileges I carried – not because I had more money, although that is a privilege of its own – but simply because my money as a stay-at-home mom came from my husband and a part-time job instead of the welfare office.
Here’s my starter list. It could be much longer.
- When I make an intelligent remark, no-one acts surprised.
- No-one gives me homemaking, financial, parenting or relationship advice unless I ask for it.
- I can make a bad financial decision, and nothing bad happens to me.
- No-one asks me to describe how I spend my money.
- I can get credit on demand.
- I can give money away and be admired for it.
- I can go on holidays.
- No-one suggests I don’t deserve the money I receive.
- I have many choices about the place I live, the foods I eat, the clothes I wear.
- If I look scruffy, people think I’m an intellectual or spiritual person.
- The police come when I call. I demand public services as a right.
- If I’m in a public argument with a person on welfare, people will think I’m the reasonable one.
- If I spend an entire day in my dressing gown, my peers congratulate me on “taking care of myself.”
- My child’s teacher, nurse, doctor, school counselor, principal, and psychologist acknowledge me as their peer – as do all professionals that serve me.
- If I am murdered on the street, my picture will be on the front page of the newspapers, and the public will be outraged.
- Most newspapers and magazines write for, and about, people like me.
- When I describe my ambitions, no-one smiles condescendingly.
- When strangers ask what I do, I have an answer that draws respect.
- I can live in my home as long as I want to.
- I am not afraid that my children will be taken away from me.
- My anger is seen as righteous.
- I can acquire property and assets without threatening my income.
- I can describe myself as “a homeowner and a taxpayer” and people think my views on public life are more credible because of this.
- If I’m stopped for a traffic violation, the police see it as a trivial matter. I’ve been stopped three times. Twice, the officer apologized.
- Store clerks are nice to me.
- I am offered free trips and discounts.
- I can give presents without the recipient telling me I should have saved my money.
- When I show off a new purchase, no-one exclaims, “Geez. How did you afford that?”
- All levels of government put my interests first. Any government that fails to do so is generally defeated in the next election.
- I know I am good enough.
Friends, tell me: what else do you see in my invisible knapsack? Or do you look at things entirely differently?
And for those who would like to see Peggy McIntosh’s original “invisible knapsack,” here’s the article.