Peggy McIntosh is associate director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women. This essay is excerpted from Working
Paper 189. "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women's
Studies" (1988), by Peggy McIntosh; available for $4.00 from the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley MA 02181
The working paper contains a longer list of privileges.
This excerpted essay is reprinted from the Winter 1990 issue of Independent
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
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