Paired with Caron Tabb’s current exhibition, “Humanity Is Not a Spectator Sport“, a selected series of readings seek to align messages and ideas formed in Tabb’s show with concepts and works of others in the real world.
In “Humanity is Not a Spectator Sport”, Tabb unflinchingly invites the viewer to both experience her own struggles with race, racism, and white privilege while also providing tools for others to take a similar look into their own lives. While never seeking to preach, Tabb instead extends an invitation to engage. She allows the viewer glimpses of the innate goodness we all have inside of ourselves through portraits of courageous women and her own introspection. She endeavors to reveal our common bonds while breaking down the artificial barriers we create so easily.
Through a list of readings, Tabb hopes to expand the topics of these difficult conversations being formed in the gallery and exhibition and explore them within our own lives and introspective worlds. As such, the third reading serves as a personal account and analysis of what it means on a deeper, more meaningful level to have white privilege as inidividuals in our society.
About the selected reading:
Peggy McIntosh is an American feminist, anti-racism activist, scholar and speaker, and founder of the national SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project on Inclusive Curriculum. With a career in research and teaching most rooted in Wellesley College’s Center for Research on Women, McIntosh became a central voice and social activist during the 1980s, bringing to light the concepts, ideas, and effects of socio-racial privilege and existence of inherent white privilege.
In McIntosh’s 1988 essay entitled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, she expands on her understanding of unearned racial advantages by paralleling many of the same ideologies and theories from male privilege in the scope of the feminist movement to that of white privilege in relation to the need for racial inclusion and equity.
“[Men] may say that they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s… I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege.”McIntosh (1)
In this essay, McIntosh lists forty-six daily advantages she acknowledges in her own life as a white woman, noting them to be things which often go unnoticed or accounted for due to her existence and upbringing as a white person.
In “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, Peggy McIntosh lays out not only the theories and ideologies behind racial privilege in our society, but also intends to reveal to the audience their own unnoticed role in an inherently racist society by walking through example after example of tangible, everyday occurrences and facts. She explains why acknowledging a lack of advantage or power in one oppressed group always also means the existence of a group with greater assets who, whether or not intentional or actively engaging, acts as the oppressor innately.
“I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way… My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.”McIntosh (1)
Peggy McIntosh’s essay serves as inspiration to Caron Tabb’s work, particularly to her life-size piece entitled “My Invisible Backpack”. As McIntosh continues to form various ideas which would later go on to shape the way in which racial equity, systematic oppression, and social privilege are studied to this day, she introduces the idea of white privilege as an ‘invisible knapsack’ within which she has unearned tools for life available only to her and other white people. Caron Tabb, in creating “My Invisible Backpack” has morphed this metaphorical image into a reality for us to confront with eye-to-eye.
I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which 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… If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own.”McIntosh (1-2)
About the artwork:
As previously noted, Caron Tabb’s “My Invisible Backpack” is a life-size work and now covers the span of one wall in the showroom at Beacon Gallery. The piece was constructed by outlining the artist’s own bodily dimensions, and even includes her own human hair. Notably, in contrast to many of the other visually bold and colorful pieces currently on show in the gallery, “My Invisible Backpack” is fully monochromatic – in a shade resembling that of a typical band-aid, i.e. ‘white’ skin. As visitors approach the piece, they are confronted with two figures of a similar height to their own – though faceless and facing away, placing emphasis on the two same-colored bags they hold as the only identifying features readily available.
Tabb writes of this work in the “Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport” exhibition catalogue (available for purchase on our website or in-gallery): “The overdue racial reckoning occurring for many white men and women like myself is causing many to acknowledge and become aware of the implications of their own racial identities. For far too long I have been oblivious to the many privileges I have been afforded my entire life. My hardships, no matter what they be, were not compounded by unrelenting racism. These are the privileges of whiteness: we are believed, validated, accepted, without having to fight tooth and nail for approval, welcome, and space or place in society.
My metaphorical backpack is carried here on my traced-out body, painted in my own skin color, with my own hair and replicas of my own carry-alls. It is a personal reflection on my white privilege. Throughout the making of this work, I continuously unpacked the contents of my invisible backpack and considered what it contained, attempting daily to be mindful of these provisions and blank checks. This process of unpacking my privilege, becoming aware of it, can feel rough and unpleasant. It is painful yet necessary to continually admit that I am the beneficiary of unearned privilege. The knapsacks are meant to both merge into the background but also appear slightly uncomfortable, and heavier than initially assumed, upon close viewing.
Most of all, I hope that we all consider what is contained within. We cannot rid ourselves of our invisible backpack, only become mindful of its opportunities, provisions, and “blank checks.” “
Peggy McIntosh writes in the closing lines of her essay: “Though systematic change takes many decades, there are pressing questions for me and I imagine for some others like me if we raise our daily consciousness on the perquisites of being light-skinned. What will we do with such knowledge? As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage to weaken hidden systems of advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily-awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.”
Caron Tabb’s show, “Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport” stems from such introspection and offers a personal portrait as well as a communal call to action. The conceptual mixed media work in this show draws heavily from Tabb’s deep Jewish identity while demonstrating we can encourage change in others through our own resilience and intentions. As the name implies, this life is an active one; one can not do good by remaining a spectator. As such, one must consider a few initial questions:
What role or position am I playing in Humanity? What role or position to I want to play?
What am I carrying in my invisible backpack, and how can/do I unpack it?
What would my list of daily privileges look like? How does that list make me feel?
What is my reaction to hearing that I may have privilege, and am responsible for it?
Print-out copies of Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” are available at Beacon Gallery. You can also find the essay online or among various print publications under the same name.
Peggy McIntosh also gave a TedxTalk on this same subject, which you can find here.
Caron Tabb’s “Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport” is on view now through mid January, 2022. We hope you will come visit if you are able. The exhibition’s catalogue is also available for purchase on our gallery’s website here.
For more information or to contact the gallery directly, please direct all inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org