Unpacking my invisible knapsack

invisible knapsackDuring the school year, I met with a group of educators regularly during lunch. We started a white cohort to discuss racism. And because we were brought together by the school that was our community, our first natural focus was on our students. We purchased Black Lives Matter t-shirts and pledged to wear them to school on Fridays to show our support. We discussed how we might be able to include more structured anti-bias curriculum. Sometimes we got sidetracked by other kinds of social injustices or just shared personal stories from marches, workshops, and our classrooms that were of interest to us all. But it wasn’t until the end of the year that we realized we hadn’t really talked about our own white privilege.

No doubt you’ve already read Peggy McIntosh’s now-classic piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” If you haven’t, you can read it on SEEDS’ web site. Written in 1989, the article came out of McIntosh’s work in feminism and male privilege. She was trying to understand how men could deny the privileges they enjoyed; and it occurred to her that although she did not have the advantages that many males had, she certainly benefited from being white. So she began listing all the things she could think of that she didn’t have to face as a white woman–situations that she didn’t have to think about simply because of her race. And despite her list being 28 years old, a lot of her points are still relevant, unfortunately.

We read (or re-read) McIntosh’s article and assigned ourselves homework: list the contents of our own invisible knapsacks. But I missed the next meeting and never got to share mine with the group. And the end of the school year meant that something special was happening every day at lunch, so there was no time to meet.

And shortly before the last day of school, I decided that I couldn’t afford to return to my wonderful part-time job next year. So I’ve attended my last Whites Against Racism lunch, which I will sincerely miss.

But I made this list, so . . . I thought I’d share it with you. Here is what I came up with as privileges I enjoy as a white person. (I did borrow quite a bit from Ms. McIntosh.)

My Invisible Knapsack

  1. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors will be neutral or pleasant to me.

  2. I can go shopping and be reasonably sure that clerks are not studying my every move, watching for signs that I might be shoplifting.

  3. I can turn on the television, go to a play, or watch a movie and see people of my race widely represented.

  4. I can read history books that recount many positive contributions from people of my race.

  5. I know that in school my child was exposed to positive accomplishments by people of our race.

  6. I can go into a music store and count on finding music by people of my race.

  7. I can go into a supermarket and find foods that I grew up with and fit with my cultural traditions.

  8. I can easily find someone who can cut and style my hair.

  9. When I use checks or credit cards, it is unlikely that my skin color will cause any extra scrutiny as to my financial reliability.

  10. I can easily find public places where I am accepted and comfortable.

  11. I can swear without people labeling me as angry or dangerous.

  12. I can wear a hoodie without being followed in any neighborhood.

  13. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

  14. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

  15. If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

  16. If I see a cop, I don’t have to worry that I will be stereotyped as a criminal and fear for my safety.

  17. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, and magazines featuring people of my race.

  18. I can join organizations and be pretty sure that I will be heard and accepted by other members.

  19. I can accept a job offer without having co-workers suspect that I got it because of race.

  20. I can walk into a hotel or store, knowing that people will not stare at me, wondering if I’m supposed to be there.

  21. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

  22. If I am not treated well by a server, I don’t have to wonder if my race had anything to do with it.

    got privilege button

I’m pretty sure there are many I haven’t thought of, and I plan to add to my list, at least mentally, when I discover more.

What invisible privileges do you benefit from?

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3 thoughts on “Unpacking my invisible knapsack

  1. I share most of the same privileges as you, obviously. Unfortunately though, some of them were reversed simply because I wear a piece of fabric on my head due to my religion. Sometimes the issue of my whiteness is completely overlooked, and all they see is scarf. I get weird, scrutinizing looks while shopping. A patient even refused to let me do his xrays. He preferred to wait until the next day when a different tech would be there. Fortunately for him he didn’t have a condition requiring immediate attention that waiting an extra day would have exacerbated. It is fun sometimes though to see the look on people’s faces when they realize I speak English, and with a Southern accent at that. Once a lady screamed slowly at me, “Where – are – you – from?!!!” (because we all know that if someone doesn’t understand English that screaming slowly at them will make them understand) When I told her “Alabama” she was so embarrassed. She turned so red. It’s really funny if and when I swear. I guess people don’t expect a Muslim in hijab to know swear words, much less use them.

    1. I am sure you do face bias as a Muslim, especially since the inauguration of the Cheetoh-in-chief. You would certainly have fewer invisible privileges than most white women. On a separate note: Mary Ann, I have never heard you swear! I bet it would be funny (in a twisted way) to see someone’s reaction to you swearing. Next time I see you, should we go somewhere in public and swear together and watch the reactions? Maybe not…

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