Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 essay “White Privilege and Male Privilege” introduced many of us to the concept of white privilege. Her work is a critical resource in the development of racial awareness for many of us. It introduces the metaphor of the “invisible knapsack,” a set of unearned advantages over people of color that we have as white people in the U.S.
Many people misunderstand what white privilege is. They think it means that we whites don’t struggle. That’s not the case. It means that the quality of our struggles are different than other racial groups’ because we’re considered the “default” group by an overwhelming majority of the systems we interact with.
We are racial insiders rather than racial outsiders. The advantages we have over people of color in our system stem from our insider status. It is not a guarantee of success in life. I understand white privilege as being the product of white prevalence. Prevalent is defined as 1) being in ascendancy: dominant; and 2) generally or widely accepted, practiced, or favored: widespread. It’s also worth noting that the words prevalent and prevail come from the same root. White privilege has at its root the goal of whites prevailing over other groups.