White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack By Peggy McIntosh
This article is now considered a ‘classic’ by anti-racist educators. It has been used in workshops and
classes throughout the United States and Canada for many years. While people of color have described for
years how whites benefit from unearned privileges, this is one of the first articles written by a white per-
son on the topics.
It is suggested that participants read the article and discuss it. Participants can then write a list of addition-
al ways in which whites are privileged in their own school and community setting. Or participants can be
asked to keep a diary for the following week of white privilege that they notice (and in some cases chal-
lenge) in their daily lives. These can be shared and discussed the following week.
Through work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often no-
ticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over privileged
, even though they may grant that women
are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university,
or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s. Denials, which amount to
taboos, surround the subject of advantages, which 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 was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege, which was similarly
denied and protected. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which
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
. 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
which I can count on cashing in
each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weight-
less 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 justly
seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I en-