Tuesday, October 23, 2012

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

McIntosh, P.  (1990)  White privilege:  Unpacking the invisible knapsack.  Independent School, 49(2), 31-35.

This article takes a perspective on racial disadvantage as a "white privilege".  It discusses how people in the majority group are willing to accept that certain races, genders, sexual orientations, etc, are socially disadvantaged in a way.  These same individuals are hesitant though to except the reflective statement, that majority groups receive unearned privileges due to their race, gender, etc.  In the article, McIntosh lists several “privileges “ that she has received by merely being white. Some jump out as something other than “privileges”, and more as standards that we should be striving towards as a society. An example is, “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.“ Through white-privilege we have acquired these standards more easily and do not need to give anything up to spread the wealth. McIntosh describes these as “positive advantages”, but then there are “negative advantages” that instill a structure of power and is holding down a disadvantaged group.  She also differentiates between "earned strength" and "unearned power".  Unearned power through privilege can look like strength when it is in fact a form of oppression.  The ultimate message from this piece is that not all types of oppression are clearly visible.  In order to make true change in this oppression, we must accept these unseen factors and tackle them head on.

(1) “I have often noticed men's unwillingness to grant that they are overprivileged, 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 that amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages that men gain from women's disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened, or ended.” (McIntosh, 1990)

(2) “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.” (McIntosh, 1990)

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