White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
A Resource © 1989 Dr. Peggy McIntosh
Introduction by Hax Baker
Our goal this issue is to provide resources and activities to help you, your family, your students, and others increase awareness of privilege. Dr. Peggy McIntosh’s paper “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” first published in Peace and Freedom Magazine, July/August, 1989, is one great demonstration of unpacking one’s own privileges. For those of you who work with high school and college students, this article can be used as a starting point to beginning conversations about privilege. For those who are psychotherapists, this can be adapted to group and workshop experiences about race, privilege and diversity. Reviewing our own invisible knapsacks can help us all become more aware of moments of privilege, and use that awareness to start conversations with children and teens.
The word “privilege” is a loaded term in our culture, and can carry negative connotations of entitlement. For example, one might referred to a spoiled child as a child with too many privileges. This connotation can make people defensive when it comes up in terms like white privilege—there is an impulse to deny being seen as entitled or special in fear of coming off as arrogant and selfish. But the term white privilege shouldn’t be taken as an accusation. Instead, it is an invitation to consider the advantages of whiteness in our society.
Professor Peggy McIntosh is a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She directs the Gender, Race, and Inclusive Education Project, which provides workshops on privilege systems and feelings of fraudulence, diversifying workplaces, curricula, and teaching methods. She founded the national SEED Project (“Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity”) in 1986. She is widely known for her papers on privilege, which include the one we’re sharing in this newsletter and another titled White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work on Women’s Studies. Her list of privileges is one example of consciousness raising and one way for us to understand the privileges of skin color as something that requires accountability and understanding. Dr. McIntosh encourages individuals to write their own lists of unearned advantage. Her list is autobiographical and refers to her own life experiences. Others will have different experiences.