Thinking about privilege — the unearned benefits that we enjoy in society as a result of being White or male or Christian — may not seem crucial, but the potential payoff is the ability to make sense of our relationships, connect across differences, and make the world better in the process. Whether you’re brand new to this subject or have been exploring it for some time, these ten observations about White privilege should feed your growing awareness.
1. The Invisible Knapsack is still the place to start. If the topic of white privilege, or privilege more generally, is new to you, start with Peggy McIntosh’s classic “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” written in 1988. Unfortunately, this is an excerpt. The full article “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies” is only available for a fee. I have some complicated thoughts on this, which I describe in #6 below, but the excerpt stands well on its own. I cannot recommend it more highly.
2. The roots of the privilege discourse are important. McIntosh is justly credited for putting the concept of privilege into mainstream discourse on gender, race, and other categories that serve both as sources of social identity and as catalysts for social oppression (e.g., religion, sexual orientation), but it’s important to recognize that McIntosh didn’t invent the concept and that her ability to mobilize a movement speaks not only to the power of her eloquence but also to her own white privilege.