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Stepping Forward and Back

Full Participation in American Society, Then and Now

Take a step forward if:

  • Assume that it is 1795. If you were living in Rhode Island in that year, and your housing situation was the same as it is now (homeowner, renting, living with relatives/friends), you would have been able to vote.
  • Assume that it is 1895. Given your family's history in the USA , if you were in South Carolina in that year, you would have been able to vote without taking a literacy test.
  • Assume that you were living in the USA in 1919. You would be able to vote.

Take a step back if:

  • Laws were passed at some point in the history of this country to forbid or close immigration specifically to members of your ethnicity (from your family's country of origin).
  • Persons of your ethnicity were ever barred from owning property in one or more of the United States .
  • People in your ethnic group were ever put in internment camps.
  • Your family ever changed its last name to make it more pronounceable OR if people often have trouble pronouncing the name.

Take a step forward if the following apply to you:

  • If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  • If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
  • 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, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
  • I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  • am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

Take a step forward if the following apply to you:

  • I can read a menu in French, English, and another language.
  • I have several favorite restaurants in different countries of the world.
  • During the holidays, I know how to hire a decorator to identify the appropriate themes and items which to decorate the house.
  • I know who my preferred financial advisor, legal service, designer, domestic employment service, and hairdresser are.


Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack", at http://seamonkey.ed.asu.edu/~mcisaac/emc598ge/Unpacking.html#daily. Ruby Payne, A Framework for Understanding Poverty ( Highlands , TX: aha! Process, Inc.)