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White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

by PeakCare on 24th August 2011

Home -> Articles -> 2011 -> August -> White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

“Whiteness in a racist, corporate controlled society is like having the image of an American Express Card. . . . stamped on one’s face: immediately you are “universally accepted.” — Manning Marable

A while ago, my good friend and colleague, Di Harvey from the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak gave me a copy of an essay to read that she thought I would enjoy. She was right – and like all good things that should be passed forward, I think that I should provide of a copy of this essay to you – but not yet!

The essay is entitled “Unpacking my knapsack of invisible white privilege” and was written by Peggy McIntosh. Within this essay, Ms McIntosh delves into her “knapsack” to pull out and identify various aspects of her daily life where she enjoys certain “privileges” as a white woman living in America that are not available to indigenous or Black Americans.

Before reading those privileges declared by Ms McIntosh, it may be useful for the non-Indigenous readers of this post to similarly reflect on, identify and list those aspects of our daily lives where we enjoy certain privileges that are not readily accessible to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues, friends and clients of our services. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers of this post will, no doubt, also be acutely aware of those privileges enjoyed by members of a dominant white culture that are not readily accessible to them and may also wish to record these from their perspective.

Ms McIntosh has listed 50 items. Given that this represents the thoughts of one woman only, I would think that together, we should easily be able to identify and record at least 100 “privileges”.

To get the ball rolling, I have listed 5 of the “privileges” identified by Ms McIntosh within her essay. Your challenge is to add to this list. This may be as a result of your personal reflection or you may also wish to undertake this exercise as a workgroup within your respective organisations.

If you have not already lodged a pledge in support of the Combined Voices Initiative you may like to commit to undertaking this exercise as a part of your pledge. Click Here

Periodically, we will re-visit the list that is being generated, provide you with a copy of Ms McIntosh‘s essay and encourage further reflection about any lessons being learned. Here are the first five “privileges” identified by Ms McIntosh.

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. 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.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbours in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

Lindsay Wegener – Executive Director, PeakCare

UPDATE – 5th October 2011

So far, 16 statements have been added to the original 5, adding up to a total of 21 in all. This is still a long way off 100!

The following lists a further 10 statements taken from Ms McIntosh’s essay. This will raise the count to around 30 and leaves you with the job of identifying a further 70.

  1. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  2. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is.
  3. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  4. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  5. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
  6. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.
  7. 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.
  8. Whether I use cheques, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin colour not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  9. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  10. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

Please add your reflections and list those aspects of your daily life where you enjoy certain privileges that are not readily accessible to your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues, friends and clients of your service.

Lindsay Wegener – Executive Director, PeakCare