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After listening to the video interview of Ta-Nehisi Coates, reading the article on white privilege, and conducting additional research, write an analysis about whether you believe that white privilege exists in this country. Give examples to support your position.Your paper is to be a minimum of three pages and should have at least three sources in addition to the article.

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White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible
By Peggy McIntosh
Through work to bring materials
from Women’s Studies into the rest
of the curriculum, I have often
noticed men’s unwillingness to
grant that they are over-privileged,
even though they may grant that
women are disadvantaged. They
may say they will work to improve
women’s status, in the society, the
university, or the curriculum, but
they can’t or won’t support the idea
of lessening men’s. Denials which
amount to taboos surround the
subject of advantages which men
gain from women’s disadvantages.
These denials protect male
privilege from being fully
acknowledged, lessened or ended.
Thinking through unacknowledged
male privilege as a phenomenon, I
realized that, since hierarchies in
our society are interlocking, there
was most likely a phenomenon of
white privilege that was similarly
denied and protected. As a white
person, I realized I had been taught
about racism as something that puts
others at a disadvantage, but had
been taught not to see one of its
corollary aspects, white privilege,
which puts me at an advantage.
I think whites are carefully taught
not to recognize white privilege,
as males are taught not to
recognize male privilege. So I
have begun in an untutored way
to ask what it is like to have white
privilege. I have come to see
white privilege as an invisible
package of unearned assets that I
can count on cashing in each day,
but about which I was “meant” to
remain oblivious. White privilege
is like an invisible weightless
knapsack of special provisions,
maps, passports, codebooks,
visas, clothes, tools and blank
Describing white privilege makes
one newly accountable. As we in
Women’s Studies work to reveal
male privilege and ask men to give
up some of their power, so one who
writes about white privilege must
ask, “Having described it, what will
I do to lessen or end it?”
After I realized the extent to which
men work from a base of
unacknowledged privilege, I
understood that much of their
oppressiveness was unconscious.
Then I remembered the frequent
charges from women of color that
white women whom they
encounter are oppressive.
I began to understand why we are
justly seen as oppressive, even
when we don’t see ourselves that
way. I began to count the ways in
which I enjoy unearned skin
privilege and have been
conditioned into oblivion about its
I was taught to see
racism only in
individual acts of
meanness, not in
invisible systems
conferring dominance
on my group.
My schooling gave me no training
in seeing myself as an oppressor,
as an unfairly advantaged person,
or as a participant in a damaged
culture. I was taught to see myself
as an individual whose moral state
depended on her individual moral
will. My schooling followed the
pattern my colleague Elizabeth
Minnich has pointed out: whites
are taught to think of their lives as
morally neutral, normative, and
average, and also ideal, so that
when we work to benefit others,
this is seen as work which will
allow “them” to be more like “us.”
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 which 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 see, my African American coworkers, friends, and
acquaintances with whom I come
“Some Notes for Facilitators” © 2010 Peggy McIntosh
“Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” © 1989 Peggy McIntosh
into daily or frequent contact in
this particular time, place and line
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. 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.
I can be pretty sure that my
neighbors in such a location
will be neutral or pleasant to
4. I can go shopping alone most
of the time, pretty well assured
that I will not be followed or
5. I can turn on the television or
open to the front page of the
paper and see people of my
race widely represented.
6. When I am told about our
national heritage or about
“civilization,” I am shown that
people of my color made it
what it is.
7. I can be sure that my children
will be given curricular
materials that testify to the
existence of their race.
8. If I want to, I can be pretty
sure of finding a publisher for
this piece on white privilege.
9. 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 that fit with my cultural
traditions, into a hairdresser’s
shop and find someone who
can cut my hair.
p. 2
singled out because of my race.
10. Whether I use checks, credit
cards or cash, I can count on
my skin color not to work
against the appearance of
financial reliability.
20. I can easily buy posters,
postcards, picture books,
greeting cards, dolls, toys, and
children’s magazines featuring
people of my race.
11. I can arrange to protect my
children most of the time from
people who might not like
21. 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
12. I can swear, or dress in secondhand clothes, or not answer
letters, without having people
attribute these choices to the
bad morals, the poverty, or the
illiteracy of my race.
13. I can speak in public to a
powerful male group without
putting my race on trial.
14. I can do well in a challenging
situation without being called a
credit to my race.
15. I am never asked to speak for
all the people of my racial
16. 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.
17. I can criticize our government
and talk about how much I fear
its policies and behavior
without being seen as a cultural
18. 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.
19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or
if the IRS audits my tax return,
I can be sure I haven’t been
22. I can take a job with an
affirmative action employer
without having co-workers on
the job suspect that I got it
because of race.
23. I can choose public
accommodations without
fearing that people of my race
cannot get in or will be
mistreated in the places I have
24. I can be sure that if I need legal
or medical help, my race will
not work against me.
25. If my day, week, or year is
going badly, I need not ask of
each negative episode or
situation whether it has racial
26. I can choose blemish cover or
bandages in “flesh” color and
have them more less match my
I repeatedly forgot each of the
realizations on this list until I wrote
it down. For me, white privilege
has turned out to be an elusive and
fugitive subject. The pressure to
avoid it is great, for in facing it I
must give up the myth of
meritocracy. If these things are
“Some Notes for Facilitators” © 2010 Peggy McIntosh
“Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” © 1989 Peggy McIntosh
true, this is not such a free country;
one’s life is not what one makes it;
many doors open for certain people
through no virtues of their own.
In unpacking this invisible
knapsack of white privilege, I have
listed conditions of daily
experience that I once took for
granted. Nor did I think of any of
these perquisites as bad for the
holder. I now think that we need a
more finely differentiated
taxonomy of privilege, for some of
these varieties are only what one
would want for everyone in a just
society, and others give license to
be ignorant, oblivious, arrogant and
I see a pattern running through the
matrix of white privilege, a pattern
of assumptions that were passed on
to me as a white person. There was
one main piece of cultural turf; it
was my own turf, and I was among
those who could control the turf.
My skin color was an asset for any
move I was educated to want to
make. I could think of myself as
belonging in major ways and of
making social systems work for
me. I could freely disparage, fear,
neglect, or be oblivious to anything
outside of the dominant cultural
forms. Being of the main culture, I
could also criticize it fairly freely.
In proportion as my racial group
was being made confident,
comfortable, and oblivious,
other groups were likely being
made inconfident,
uncomfortable, and alienated.
Whiteness protected me from
many kinds of hostility, distress
and violence, which I was being
subtly trained to visit, in turn,
upon people of color.
For this reason, the word
“privilege” now seems to me
misleading. We usually think of
privilege as being a favored
state, whether earned or
conferred by birth or luck. Yet
some of the conditions I have
described here work
systematically to overempower
certain groups. Such privilege
simply confers dominance
because of one’s race or sex.
I want, then, to distinguish between
earned strength and unearned
power conferred systemically.
Power from unearned privilege can
look like strength when it is in fact
permission to escape or to
dominate. But not all of the
privileges on my list are inevitably
damaging. Some, like the
expectation that neighbors will be
decent to you, or that your race will
not count against you in court,
should be the norm in a just
society. Others, like the privilege to
ignore less powerful people, distort
the humanity of the holders as well
as the ignored groups.
We might at least start by
distinguishing between positive
advantages, which we can work to
spread, and negative types of
advantage, which unless rejected
will always reinforce our present
hierarchies. For example, the
feeling that one belongs within the
human circle, as Native Americans
say, should not be seen as privilege
for a few. Ideally it is an unearned
entitlement. At present, since only a
few have it, it is an unearned
advantage for them. This paper
results from a process of coming to
p. 3
see that some of the power that I
originally saw as attendant on
being a human being in the United
States consisted in unearned
advantage and conferred
The question is:
“Having described
white privilege, what
will I do to end it?
I have met very few men who are
truly distressed about systemic,
unearned male advantage and
conferred dominance. And so one
question for me and others like me
is whether we will be like them, or
whether we will get truly
distressed, even outraged, about
unearned race advantage and
conferred dominance, and, if so,
what will we do to lessen them. In
any case, we need to do more
work in identifying how they
actually affect our daily lives.
Many, perhaps most, of our white
students in the U.S. think that
racism doesn’t affect them
because they are not people of
color, they do not see “whiteness”
as a racial identity. In addition,
since race and sex are not the only
advantaging systems at work, we
need similarly to examine the
daily experience of having age
advantage, or ethnic advantage, or
physical ability, or advantage
related to nationality, religion, or
sexual orientation.
Difficulties and dangers
surrounding the task of finding
parallels are many. Since racism,
sexism, and heterosexism are not
the same, the advantages
“Some Notes for Facilitators” © 2010 Peggy McIntosh
“Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” © 1989 Peggy McIntosh
associated with them should not
be seen as the same. In addition,
it is hard to disentangle aspects of
unearned advantage which rest
more on social class, economic
class, race, religion, sex, and
ethnic identity than on other
factors. Still, all of the
oppressions are interlocking, as
the Combahee River Collective
Statement of 1977 continues to
remind us eloquently.
One factor seems clear about all
of the interlocking oppressions.
They take both active forms,
which we can see, and
embedded forms, which as a
member of the dominant group
one is taught not to see. In my
class and place, I did not see
myself as a racist because I was
taught to recognize racism only
in individual acts of meanness
by members of my group, never
in invisible systems conferring
unsought racial dominance on
my group from birth.
Disapproving of the systems
won’t be enough to change
them. I was taught to think that
racism could end if white
individuals changed their
attitudes. But a “white” skin in
the United States opens many
doors for whites whether or not
we approve of the way
dominance has been conferred
on us. Individual acts can
palliate, but cannot end, these
To redesign social systems, we
need first to acknowledge their
colossal unseen dimensions. The
silences and denials surrounding
privilege are the key political tool
here. They keep the thinking about
equality or equity incomplete,
protecting unearned advantage and
conferred dominance by making
these taboo subjects. Most talk by
whites about equal opportunity
seems to me now to be about equal
opportunity to try to get into a
position of dominance while
denying that systems of dominance
It seems to me that obliviousness
about white advantage, like
obliviousness about male
advantage, is kept strongly
inculturated in the United States
so as to maintain the myth of
meritocracy, the myth that
democratic choice is equally
available to all. Keeping most
people unaware that freedom of
confident action is there for just a
small number of people props up
those in power and serves to keep
power in the hands of the same
groups that have most of it
Although systemic change takes
many decades, there are pressing
questions for me and I imagine
for some others like me if we
raise our daily consciousness on
the perquisites of being lightskinned. What will we do with
such knowledge? As we know
from watching men, it is an open
question whether we will choose
to use unearned advantage to
weaken hidden systems of
advantage, and whether we will
use any of our arbitrarily awarded
power to try to reconstruct power
systems on a broader base.
*This is an authorized excerpt of
McIntosh’s original white
p. 4
privilege article, “White Privilege
and Male Privilege: A Personal
Account of Coming to See
Correspondences through Work
in Women’s Studies,” Working
Paper 189 (1988), Wellesley
Centers for Women, Wellesley
College, MA, 02481.
“White Privilege: Unpacking the
Invisible Knapsack” first appeared
in Peace and Freedom Magazine,
July/August, 1989, pp. 10-12, a
publication of the Women’s
International League for Peace and
Freedom, Philadelphia, PA
Anyone who wishes to
reproduce more than 35
copies of this article must
apply to the author, Dr.
Peggy McIntosh, at
[email protected]
This article may not be
electronically posted
except by the National
SEED Project.

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