Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh . So I have begun in an un-tutored way to ask what it is like to I was taught to see Through work to bring materials have . I have come to only in individual acts of from Women’s Studies into the rest of see white privilege as an invisible meanness, not in invisible the curriculum, I have often noticed package of unearned assets which I can men’s unwillingness to grant that they count on cashing in each day, but about systems conferring dominance are over-privileged, even though they which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an on my group. may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say that they invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, will work to improve women’s status, effects of white privilege in my life. I in the society, the university, or the codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks. have chosen those conditions which I curriculum, but they can’t or won’t think in my case attach somewhat support the idea of lessening men’s. Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in more to skin- privilege than to Denials which amount to taboos class, religion, ethnic status, or surround the subject of advantages Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some geographical location, though of which men gain from women’s course all these factors are disadvantages. These denials protect of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, intricately intertwined. As far as I can male privilege from being fully see, my African American co[workers, acknowledged, lessened or ended. “Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?” friends and acquaintances with whom I Thinking through unacknowledged come into daily or frequent contact in male privilege as a phenomenon, I After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of this particular time, place, and line of realized that since hierarchies in our work cannot count on most of these society are interlocking, there was unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their conditions. most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges 1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the and protected. As a white person, I company of people of my race most of realized I had been taught about racism from women of color that white women whom they encounter are the time. as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even 2. If I should need to move, I can be to see one of its corollary aspects, pretty sure of renting or purchasing white privilege, which puts me at an when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I housing in an area which I can afford advantage. and in which I want to live. I think are carefully taught not enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about to recognize white privilege, as males 3. I can be pretty sure that my are taught not to recognize its existence. My schooling gave me no training in neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me. Peggy McIntosh is Associate Director of seeing myself as an oppressor, as an the Wellesley College Center for Research unfairly advantaged person, or as a on Women. This essay is excerpted from participant in a damaged culture. I was 4. I can go shopping alone most of the her working pager, “White Privilege and taught to see myself as an individual time, pretty well assured that I will not Male Privilege: A Personal Account of whose moral state depended on her be followed or harassed. Coming to See Correspondences Through individual moral will. My schooling Work in Women’s Studies,” copyright © followed the pattern my colleague 5. I can turn on the television or open 1988 by Peggy McIntosh. Available for Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: to the front page of the paper and see $4.oo from address below. The paper whites are taught to think of their lives people of my race widely represented. includes a longer list of privileges. Permission to excerpt or reprint must be as morally neutral, normative, and obtained from Peggy McIntosh, Wellesley average, and also ideal, so that when 6. When I am told about our national College Center for Research on Women, we work to benefit others, this is seen heritage or about “civilization,” I am Wellesley, MA 02181; (617) 283-2520; Fax as work which will allow “them” to be shown that people of my color made it (617) 283-2504 more like “us.” what it is. I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily

Peace and Freedom y July/August 1989 7. I can be sure that my children will 19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if privilege, for some of these varieties be given curricular materials that the IRS audits my tax return, I can be are only what one would want for testify to the existence of their race. sure I haven’t been singled out because everyone in a just society, and others of my race give license to be ignorant, oblivious, 8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of arrogant and destructive. finding a publisher for this piece on 20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, I see a pattern running through the white privilege. picture books, greeting cards, dolls, matrix of white privilege, a pattern of toys, and children’s magazines assumptions which were passed on to 9. I can go into a music shop and featuring people of my race. me as a white person. There was one count on finding the music of my race main piece of cultural turf; it was my represented, into a supermarket and 21. I can go home from most meetings own turf, and I was among those who find the staple foods which fit with my of organizations I belong to feeling could control the turf. My skin color cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, was an asset for any move I was shop and find someone who can cut out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, educated to want to make. I could my hair. held at a distance, or feared. think of myself as belonging in major ways, and of making social systems 10. Whether I use checks, credit cards, 22. I can take a job with an affirmative work for me. I could freely disparage, or cash, I can count on my skin color action employer without having co- fear, neglect, or be oblivious to not to work against the appearance of workers on the job suspect that I got it anything outside of the dominant financial reliability. because of race. cultural forms. Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly 11. I can arrange to protect my 23. I can choose public freely. children most of the time from people accommodation without fearing that In proportion as my racial group was who might not like them. people of my race cannot get in or will being made confident, comfortable, be mistreated in the places I have and oblivious, other groups were likely 12. I can sear, or dress in second hand chosen. being made unconfident, clothes, or not answer letters, without uncomfortable, and alienated. having people attribute these choices to 24. I can be sure that if I need legal or Whiteness protected me from many the bad morals, the poverty, or the medical help, my race will not work kinds of hostility, distress and illiteracy of my race. against me. violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit in turn upon people of 13. I can speak in public to a powerful 25. If my day, week, or year is going color. male group without putting my race on badly, I need not ask of each negative For this reason, the word “privilege” trial. episode or situation whether it has now seems to me misleading. We racial overtones. usually think of privilege as being a 14. I can do well in a challenging favored state, whether earned or situation without being called a credit 26. I can choose blemish cover or conferred by birth or luck. Yes some to my race. bandages in “flesh” color and have of the conditions I have described here them more or less match my skin. work to systematically over empower 15. I am never asked to speak for all certain groups. Such privilege simply the people of my racial group. I repeatedly forgot each of the confers dominance because of one’s realizations on this list until I wrote it race or sex. 16. I can remain oblivious of the down. For me white privilege has I want, then, to distinguish between language and customs of persons of turned out to be an elusive and fugitive earned strength and unearned power color who constitute the world’s subject. The pressure to avoid it is conferred systemically. Power from majority without feeling in my culture great, for in facing it I must give up the unearned privilege can look like any penalty for such oblivion. myth of meritocracy. If these things strength when it is in fact permission to are true, this is not such a free country; escape or to dominate. But not all of 17. I can criticize our government and one’s life is not what one makes it; the privileges on my list are inevitably talk about how much I fear its policies many doors open for certain people damaging. Some, like the expectation and behavior without being seen as a through no virtues of their own. that neighbors will be decent to you, or cultural outsider. In unpacking this invisible knapsack that your race will not count against of white privilege, I have listed you in court, should be the norm in a 18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to conditions of daily experience which I just society. Others, like the privilege talk to “the person in charge,” I will be once took for granted. Nor did I think to ignore less powerful people, distort facing a person of my race. of any of these prerequisites as bad for the humanity of the holders as well as the holder. I now think that we need a the ignored groups. more finely differentiated taxonomy of

Peace and Freedom y July/August 1989 We might at least start by One factor seems clear about all of distinguishing between positive the interlocking . They The question is: “Having advantages which we can work to take both active forms which we can described white privilege, spread, and negative types of see and embedded forms which as a advantages which unless rejected will member of the dominant group one is what will I do to end it?” always reinforce our present taught not to see. In my class and hierarchies. For example, the feeling place, I did not see myself as a racist question whether we will choose to use that one belongs within the human because I was taught to recognize unearned advantage to weaken hidden circle, as Native Americans say, should racism only in individual acts of systems of advantage, and whether we not be seen as privilege for a few. meanness by members of my group, will use any of our arbitrarily-awarded Ideally it is an unearned entitlement. never in invisible systems conferring power to try to reconstruct power At present, since only a few have it, it unsought racial dominance on my systems on a broader base. „ is an unearned advantage for them. group from birth. This paper results from a process of Disapproving of the systems won’t coming to see that some of the power be enough to change them. I was which I originally saw as attendant on taught to think that racism could end if being a human being in the U.S. white individuals hanged their consisted in unearned advantage and attitudes. [But] a “white” skin in the conferred dominance. opens many doors for I have met very few men who are whites whether or not we approve of truly distressed about systemic, the way dominance has been conferred unearned male advantage and on us. Individual acts can palliate, but conferred dominance. And so one cannot end, these problems. question for me and others like me is To redesign social systems we need whether we will get truly distressed, first to acknowledge their colossal even outraged about unearned race unseen dimensions. The silences and advantage and conferred dominance denials surrounding privilege are the and if so, what we will do to lessen key political tool here. They keep the them. In any case, we need to do more thinking about equality or equity work in identifying how they actually incomplete, protecting unearned affect our daily lives. Many, perhaps advantage and conferred dominance by most, of our white students in the U.S. making these taboo subjects. Most talk think that racism doesn’t affect them by whites about equal opportunity because they are not people of color; seems to me now to be about equal they do not see “whiteness” as a racial opportunity to try to get into a position identity. In addition, since race and of dominance while denying that sex are not the only advantaging systems of dominance exist. systems at work, we need similarly to It seems to me that obliviousness examine the daily experience of having about white advantage, like age advantage, or ethnic advantage, or obliviousness about male advantage, is physical ability, or advantage related to kept strongly inculturated in the United nationality, religion, or sexual States so as to maintain the myth of orientation. meritocracy, the myth that all Difficulties and dangers surrounding democratic choice is equally available the task of finding parallels are many. to all. Keeping most people unaware Since racism, , and that freedom of confident action is are not the same, the there for just a small number of people advantaging associated with them props up those in power, and serves to should not be seen as the same. In keep power in the hands of the same addition, it is hard to disentangle groups that have most of it already. aspects of unearned advantage which Though systematic change takes rest more on , economic many decades, there are pressing class, race, religion, sex and ethnic questions for me and I imagine for identity than on other factors. Still, all some others like me if we raise our of the oppressions are interlocking, as daily consciousness on the perquisites the Combahee River Collective of being -skinned. What will we Statement of 1977 continues to remind do with such knowledge? As we know us eloquently. from watching men, it is an open

Peace and Freedom y July/August 1989