White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
by Peggy McIntosh
“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group” DAILY EFFECTS OF WHITE PRIVILEGE
I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions. 1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. 2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me. 3. 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. 4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me. 5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed. 6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented. 7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. 8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race. 9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of ﬁnding a publisher for this piece on white privilege. 10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race. 11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race. 12. 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. 13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of ﬁnancial reliability. 14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them. 15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection. 16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they ﬁt school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race. 17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color. 18. 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. 19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial. 20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race. 21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
Peggy McIntosh is associate director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women. This essay is excerpted from Working Paper 189. “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies” (1988), by Peggy McIntosh; available for $4.00 from the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley MA 02181. The working paper contains a longer list of privileges. This excerpted essay is reprinted from the Winter 1990 issue of Independent School.
22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my...
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