My Reaction to “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh


Race is on my mind.  It’s everywhere I turn.  We are seeing black people litterally gunned down and killed, arrested and incarcerated unjustly, their voting rights being revoked, the list goes on and on and what a sad and tragic list it is. Slavery in a formal sense may have ended but they are still being enslaved, bound and constricted by the very society who claims they have equal rights.  Equal rights? No way. To even make that statement with a straight face in light of current events and atrocities being committed in black communities is an insult and a farce.

I don’t claim to have any answers to the crisis we face.  However, I do know that knowledge is the key to unlock most doors and have started to read more inequality.  That is how I ran across an article by Peggy McIntosh titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and was so mind blown by it that I read it twice, back to back. For the first time in my life, I realized that I have not accomplished what I have in my life simply based on my own merit.  I had a hand, a big white, ugly hand and it is called “White Privilege”.   I suddenly thought about how one black girl at CVS reacted to the announcement that I, after only about a year of employment, had been given a large promotion. She had been with the company much longer, had expressed interest in the position numerous times and had been told she could interview for it if the position ever opened up again.  Well, when the current Pharmacy Trainer was up for a promotion, she was asked to give names of possible successors.  Mine was one of them and I think the black girl’s was also but I could be wrong.  The bottom line is this: one day I got a call and invited to an “informal” meeting with some of the company’s higher ups.  Within two weeks, I had the job I wanted without even having it posted within the organization.  At the time, I didn’t even realize it was wrong.  I thought that I had been recognized based on my own performance.  I had seen the customer service scores for my store plummet for the entire time I was out on a leave of absence from a shattered patella. After my return, they raised dramatically.  It was noticed and commented on by people in upper management.  However, it was not just this that landed me that promotion.  I was handpicked by my white peers who wanted me because I “fit in”. That is a rude awakening to me and humbling.  It’s a slap to the ego to realize that you have not TRULY earned your achievements based on your own personal abilities.  No, it’s your skin color that has a starring role in a play you didn’t even know was on stage.

I actually felt a little sick when I read it because it really made me challenge my beliefs about race and how I have been trained to mistrust blacks and avoid deep ties or associations with any.  How can one person undo the damages caused by a life time of training and immersion in a culture that is truly based on oppression?  How do I go about removing those mental blocks holding me back?  How can I make any real, significant, contributions in a predominantly black community if I don’t make a conscious effort to retrain my thinking?  I am a loving and accepting person.  I don’t commit or condone hate crimes of any nature, In fact, I am outraged and disgusted by the inequalities so obvious in our society today and the increasing levels of violence being inflicted in the black community from hate mongers and even at the hands of our own police force and other governmental agencies.  I have never mistreated any black people and have always considered myself to be untainted by racist ideals. I have gone above and beyond to help black students of mine that I could quite clearly see needed some extra time, attention and resources.  I would like to think that I have helped some struggling students but really now I am thinking thats not enough.  There is so much more that I can do to help the movement for social justice.  I am not immune to our culture’s indoctrination into the oppressive society we find ourselves in and not 100% untainted.  I want to be.  I suppose that’s half the battle, seeing it and wanting to change.

So, in this article, Peggy McIntosh provides a list of ways her daily life is effected by white privilege and as I read it, my eyes widened in horror as I realized something personally horrifying to me.  I too have been privileged. I have been only partially aware of how society favors me and my family because of our race. Now. my eyes are opening up more and more and I am motivated to keep the process going.

Please read the excerpt below from her article and share your thoughts with me.

Here is a link to where I got it from: https://organizingforpower.wordpress.com/power/anti-oppression-resources-exercises/

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.
  22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
  23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
  25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
  26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
  28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
  29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.
  30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
  31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
  32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
  33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
  34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
  35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
  37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
  38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
  39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
  40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
  41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
  42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
  43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
  44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
  45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
  46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
  47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
  48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
  49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
  1. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.