What is White Privilege?
White privilege is often described through the lens of Peggy McIntosh’s groundbreaking essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” The essay, originally published in 1988, is often the starting point for developing context to the term and establishing tangible connections for white people.
McIntosh described white privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets, which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.”
This invisible force manifests in a multitude of ways. From being able to purchase flesh-colored bandages that match your skin tone to being able to move through life without being racially profiled or unfairly stereotyped.
Yet white privilege is more than just inconvenience – it’s rooted in racism.
Sociologist and author of “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” Robin DiAngelo says “White privilege is the automatic, taken-for-granted advantage bestowed upon white people as a result of living in a society based on the premise of white as the human ideal, and that from its founding established white advantage as a matter of law and today as a matter of policy and practice. It doesn’t matter if you agree with it, if you want it, if you even are aware of it — it’s 24/7/365.”
According to Cory Collins, “White privilege is—perhaps most notably in this era of uncivil discourse—a concept that has fallen victim to its own connotations. The two-word term packs a double whammy that inspires pushback. 1) The word white creates discomfort among those who are not used to being defined or described by their race. And 2) the word privilege, especially for poor and rural white people, sounds like a word that doesn’t belong to them—like a word that suggests they have never struggled. “
While white people have undoubtedly faced struggles and hardships they had to overcome, the reality is that they live within a world that gives them an advantage over Black people. DiAngelo compares this to swimming with or against the current: “…we’re both working, we’re both swimming, but there’s such a different impact on the outcome of that effort.” While a white person may lead a difficult life, their skin tone is not one of the causes of their struggles, and the systems in place are set to help them while oppressing people of color.
To end white privilege requires dealing with racism head-on.
Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Antiracist,” says “it is critical for white people, for people in general, to stop denying their racist ideas, to stop denying the ways in which policies have benefited them, to stop denying their racism, and to realize that actually the heartbeats of racism itself is denial, and the sound of that heartbeat is ‘I’m not racist.'”
Awareness of your privilege should’t be viewed as a burden or source of guilt. It’s an opportunity to learn and work towards a more just and inclusive world. Check out the following resources to learn more about white privilege and how you can help dismantle the system.
Articles and Websites
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack by Peggy McIntosh
- White Privilege and Benefits by Showing Up for Social Justice
- Scaffolded Anti-Racist Resources
- How to Be an Antiracist
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
- Waking up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race
- The Heart of Whiteness