In 1989, Peggy McIntosh, Associate Director of the Wellesley College for Research on Women, penned the essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (Andersen & Collins, 2013, pp. 49-53). She stated that her work in women’s studies led her to realize that although men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, and that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. This is when she considered how women of color stated that white women are oppressive, too. This helped her to understand why white-skinned folks “are justly seen as oppressive, even when they don’t see themselves that way”. She began to list the ways in which she enjoyed unearned white-skin privilege and had been “conditioned into oblivion about its existence”.
The following are the examples that Dr. McIntosh provided of the ways in which white-skinned folks like me have privilege simply because we have been born with white-skin.
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.
3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
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 which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
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.
11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
12. I can swear, or dress in second hand 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 group.
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 outsider.
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 singled out because of my race.
20. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
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 feared.
22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
23. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
25. If my day of the week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial undertones.
26. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
Andersen, M. L., & Hill Collins, P. (2013). Race, class, and gender : An anthology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
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