In the article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," Peggy McIntosh is a white woman who decided to work on herself by identifying effects of white privilege in her life. She is...

In the article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," Peggy McIntosh is a white woman who decided to work on herself by identifying effects of white privilege in her life. She is referring to skin-color privilege. Do you agree with what she is saying in instances such as when she claims that she is sure she can rent or purchase a house in an area which she can afford and where she would want to live in and can be sure that her neighbors in such a location would be neutral or pleasant to her?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Prior to debating the claims that McIntosh makes, I would suggest that the exact nature of her assertions might not be the primary point in her article.  McIntosh is making a critical case as to why social conditions have to examined in as stringent of a manner possible:

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.

I think that this is a critical point in McIntosh's assertions.  McIntosh's "unpacking of the knapsack" is done to explore the active and subtle forms in which power is assigned in social settings.  To be able to recognize that racial discrimination does not exist solely "in individual acts of meanness," but also in "invisible systems" is one of her most essential arguments.  It might even be more persuasive than the "unpacking" of "the knapsack" itself. McIntosh's willingness to examine how social conditions might be reflective of bias and institutional unfairness is where her article proves to be quite compelling.  It forces the individual to engage in social criticism of the structures that envelop the individual.

As for the unpacking of the "knapsack" itself, I think that many of the issues that McIntosh raises have relevance.  Having said that, I do think that some of her assertions tend to look at race as the defining and dominant characteristic.  There might be other valences of social power that could reflect power as much, if not more, than solely race.  For example, McIntosh argues that there is an element of choice in housing that people who are White are able to experience:  "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."  This statement makes the assumption that race is the impediment towards housing mobility. I think that a case could be made that wealth and economic privilege play as large of a role in this reality.  If a White person of limited means wanted to move into a neighborhood that is outside of their economic means, it's hard to see how race trumps class. It certainly could, but it does not seem feasible that economic reality takes a subservient role to racial construction.

Yet, I don't think McIntosh is trying to argue that "White Privilege" is limited to race.  She might be suggesting that questioning the presence and operation of "invisible systems" that deny opportunity is more important than suggesting that a condition of race is more dominant than another form of silencing voice.  The critical examination is meant to open a dialogue in which individuals critically assess the world and their place in it. Within this domain, McIntosh's premises and arguments are worthwhile in how they open examination through discourse and debate.  

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