White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
"I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible
systems conferring dominance on my group"
Through work to bring materials from women's studies into the rest of the curriculum, 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 women's
statues, 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.
Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that, since
hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there are most likely a phenomenon, I realized
that, since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a
phenomenon of while privilege that was similarly denied and protected. As a white
person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a
disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege,
which puts me at an advantage.
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught
not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like
to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of
unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to
remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special
provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.
Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in women's studies
work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who
writes about having white privilege must ask, "having described it, what will I do to
lessen or end it?"
After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I
understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the
frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are
oppressive. I began to understand why we are just seen as oppressive, even when we
don't see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin
privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.
My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly
advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as
an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. My schooling
followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught