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White Privilege

Peggy McIntosh's work on white privilege has been mentioned on
WMST-L many times over the years.  A few of the messages
discussing her work appear below in Part 1 of this file; they
span the years from 1992 to 2003.  Part 2 contains a more
extended discussion from September 2001 that focuses especially
on whether McIntosh's notion of white privilege adequately
acknowledges class differences.  Parts 3 and 4 contain a lengthy
discussion (Sept./Oct. 2001) of whether Jews are/should be
considered white and the extent to which they enjoy white
privilege.  Part 5 discusses the "white" status of other ethnic
groups and includes a useful bibliography of works on "white
privilege."  For the most part, the messages in Parts 3, 4, and 5
do not refer explicitly to McIntosh's work.  For later WMST-L
discussion of McIntosh, see the file White Privilege II.

Date: Wed, 30 Sep 1992 12:11:35 -0400
Subject: Re: Construction of whiteness
Amy: You find the following useful:
"White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" in Peace and Freedom,
July/August 1989 by Peggy McIntosh.
A longer version of this article which is excerpted from her working
paper, "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of
Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women's Studies" (1988)
is available from Peggy McIntosh at Wellesley College Center for
Research on Women, Wellesley, MA 02181; (617) 431-1453.
Hope this helps. Ranita
Date: Fri, 20 Aug 1993 12:58:07 -0400
Subject: White Privilege essay
        Earlier today, Lahoucine Ouzgane wrote:

> Can someone on the list help me locate the place and date of publication of
> the following: Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible
> Knapsack"?   Thanks in advance.

        The essay has appeared under different titles in a number of
places, among them RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER: AN ANTHOLOGY, edited by
Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth
Publishing Company, 1992), pp. 70-81, where it bears the title, "White
Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See
Correspondences Through Work in Women's Studies."  It's undoubtedly a
version of the essay referred to above; it even includes the phrase
"unpacking this invisible knapsack" (p. 76).

        This is a useful essay, but I am troubled by its tendency to treat
"white" people as if they have a uniform experience.  Even though McIntosh
acknowledges that class, religion, ethnic status, and other factors are
"inextricably intertwined" privileging factors, much of her essay seems to
ignore this.  Thus, for example, although most Jews have "white privilege,"
they might not necessarily make the following statements (from McIntosh's

>         I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to
> mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
>         I can be reasonable sure that my neighbors [if I move to a new
> neighborhood] will be neutral or pleasant to me.
>         I could arrange to protect our young children most of the time from
> people who might not like them.

        Or, in the following examples, if one substitutes "ethnicity" for
"race," the statements may be problematic for many who nonetheless enjoy
"white privilege":

>         I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will
> tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries
> about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.
>         My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and
> powers of people of other races.
>         I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience
> feelings of rejection owing to my race.

        I think the essay's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, and
McIntosh continues to modify the essay in response to comments.  Toward the
end, for example, she has added a useful discussion of heterosexual
privilege that was not in some early versions.

        Joan Korenman        Internet: korenman  AT
                             Bitnet:   korenman  AT    umbc
Date: Fri, 18 Apr 1997 09:34:21 -0400
Subject: Racism in the classroom
I like to use Peggy McIntosh's article on "Male Privilege, White Privilege,"
in Andersen and Collins anthology _Race, Class, and Gender_ because it
shifts the focus back to how white people/women benefit from racism and
makes us aware how that can be even in spite of our desires not to be
racist.  Therefore, it encourages white students to investigate _their_
experience with racism.  I like to do this article back to back with
Yamato's.  It helps to break down the idea that only people of color
"know" about racism.  Barbara Scott Winkler
Date: Thu, 24 Apr 1997 10:36:03 -0400
Subject: Re: Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege"
        Elizabeth Kisseling recently asked for a suggestions on
using McIntosh's article on white privilege.  One of the most
helpful exercises I have developed for expanding the article is

        Note the list of privileges McIntosh provides.  {it is worth
expanding this list with the group's own privileges which are
different from McIntosh's, but that is not the goal of this
particular assignment} Now, go through the list and, for each entry,
_NON-DISCRETIONARY_, where "discretionary privileges" are defined as
privileges I can opt to exercise or not exercise, and
"non-discretionary privileges" are privileges that I possess whether
I want them or not.

        Thus, "I can arrange to protect my children most of the time
from people who might not like them" is discretionary, since I can
abstain from making such arrangements, while "If a traffic cop pulls
me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't
been singled out because of my race" is non-discretionary.

        The distinction between the discretionary and the
non-discretionary is ambiguous in some of the contexts, but don't
let that get in the way of the point.

        The point?: Almost all the privileges are non-discretionary, 
highlighting the fact that the system, rather than the reader,
needs to be changed in order to eliminate the privileges.  The
exercise or repudiation of a discretionary privilege is my
responsibility, but non-discretionary privileges function whether
I want them to or not.  These latter privileges are not like the
privilege I have as a teacher to grant or not grant an extension
on a paper, for example.

        Joan Mandle, replying to the same request, said:
>Concerning your discussion of white privilege, I have found that it is not
>productive to focus on encouraging students to feel guilty for what their
>parents or society have done, but rather to turn the conversation to what
>positive steps they could take at the present time to facilitate better
>communication and coalition building across ethnicity. Guilt is not and
>has never been in the past the basis of good political work.
>Joan Mandle

        This exercise gets you out of this mindset.  Guilt is only
appropriate for decisions we make which are under our control.  Most
of these privileges are not under the privileged person's control,
so guilt is misplaced.  A sense of fairness and equity is all that
is required to provide motivation for dispelling these privileges,
not a sense of guilt.  White privilege is socially bestowed, not
personally chosen.


/  Lawrence R. Ashley           BITNET:Ashleyl  AT    SNYCORVA
/  Department of Philosophy     INTERNET:Ashleyl  AT    SNYCORVA.CORTLAND.EDU
/  125 DeGroat Hall             SUNY DECnet:SCORVA::Ashleyl
/  SUNY College at Cortland     Bus. Phone: (607) 753-2015
/  P.O. Box 2000                Home Phone: (607) 753-0058
/  Cortland, New York, 13045    Fax by prearrangement to home phone.
Date: Tue, 5 Oct 1999 12:34:23 -0500
From: Janice Bogstad <bogstajm AT UWEC.EDU>
Subject: Re: students getting it
I use an exercise in the book:
Experiencing Race, Class and Gender in the United States.
The article is entitled:
"White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"  by
Peggy McIntosh
This is one of our textbooks for the courese, but
I don't assign the article as reading on the syllabus.  Rather, I ask
students to read it AFTER we do the exercise in class.
I copy the article, which lists several privileges white people
don't know that they have (I am white-largely Scandanavian,
as are most but not all of my students).  T
I hand them out slips of paper that list one of these privileges,
have each student take two of them, and have them read out the
privileges to each other twice, then ask them a short series
of quesitons designed to help them see that these 'rights'
they assume are actually 'privileges' that not all americans
share.  I have them discuss this in small groups and then summarize
the discussion to the whole class.
Students are at first uncomfortable, and somewhat subdued but it
gets general discussion going on 'white privilege'.
The list has 26 items...things like,
I can if I wish arrange to be in
the company of pepole of my race most of the time.
I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I
will not be followed or harassed.
There as a Gendered version of this checklist too..but this one focues
on race and poverty.
My course is on 'Immigrant Women' in the midwest, starting with
the 19th century but focusing on the mid- to late- 20th century and
in the past it has involved 70+ students.  I am about to try this
with a small, first-year experience class with 16 students.
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2000 14:15:16 -0400
From: Holly Mitchell <hol31 AT UMIT.MAINE.EDU>
Subject: Fwd: Re: citation
An online version of McIntosh's work:
Holly   AT    U/Maine
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2000 08:28:50 -0400
From: Mary Louise Ertel <ERTEL AT EROLS.COM>
Subject: Peggy McIntosh - updated version
I'd like to call your attention to a 1996 version of Peggy McIntosh's
all-important work on privilege, puglished as "White Privilege, Color,
and Crime:  A Personal Account," published in _Images of Color, Images
of Crime:  Readings_", edited by Coramae Richey Mann and Marjorie S.
Zatz ((Roxbury).
This version continues the insights of the original article, as well as
some marvelously nuanced and perceptive comments relevance to the
criminal justice system.  Peggy also discusses the need to empower, not
just divest onself of privilege.  She as well has some insightful
comments about "being oppressive through privilege and being oblivious
to one's oppressiveness, again through privilege."
The copyright of this article, as of her previous one, is (as Michael
has noted) Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley, MA
02181.  Tel: 781-283-2520, fax 781 283-2504.
Mary L. Ertel, Associate Professor, Sociology
Central Connecticut State University
ertel  AT         ertel  AT
Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 17:28:13 EDT
From: Alyson Buckman <Cataria2 AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: teaching affirmative action
Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Backpack: Whiteness and Privilege"
(not totally sure about the second part of the title) is a great article to
use with younger undergrads.  It has a long list of advantages that whites
receive due to the color of their skin (well, some of the items can be linked
with class as well).  It also nicely introduces the concept of meritocracy as
myth in American race and work relations.  The implication, of course, is
that affirmative action is necessary to counteract all of these invisible
advantages.  One place to find it, I believe, is in Rothenberg's _Race,
Class, and Gender_.  I know that I also read a piece -- perhaps in _Women:
Images and Realities_ -- in which interviews of white executives revealed
that they believed aff action kept them hiring minorities; without it, they
said, they'd revert to old habits.  These are two great readers to use in
Intro to Women's Studies as well.
Alyson Buckman
Austin College
Date: Sat, 9 Jun 2001 17:13:56 -0400
From: Patricia Ortman <peo AT TIDALWAVE.NET>
Subject: article by Ruth Anne Olsen
Does anyone know where I can get the brief article by Ruth Anne Olsen in
which she builds on McIntosh's white privilege article to outline ways
in which her own children are privileged in school without knowing it?
Thanks.  Pat Ortman
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2001 10:26:17 -0400
From: Nitza Hidalgo <nmh AT JAVANET.COM>
Subject: Re: article by Ruth Anne Olsen
To Patricia Ortman:
There is an article about white privilege in schools that appears in
"Beyond Heroes and Holidays." It may be the Olsen article you are looking

Lee, E., Menkart, D., & Okazawa-Rey, M. (1998). (Eds). Beyond heroes and
holidays: A practical guide to K-12 anti-racist, multicultural education and
staff development. Washington, DC: Network of Educators on the Americas.

Nitza M. Hidalgo
Westfield State College
Date: Tue, 1 Apr 2003 16:01:23 +0300
From: Jonna Roos <jroos AT MAPPI.HELSINKI.FI>
Subject: . . . privilage excercise in Finland
Dear listmembers,

[First part of message omitted]

I browsed through list archive and found excellent material on
whiteness and privilage excercise.  The only problem is that I am
teaching here in Finland Women`s Studies and Film and tv, and all the
students are priviliged white women (only one male). Do you have any
experiences on teaching whiteness in Skandinavia or have you done
privilage excercises in totally white class?

I did Peggy MacIntosh excercise in pairs, so the students had one or two
things in Peggy`s list to discuss. I asked them to think that the other one
is black and the other is white. Some of the students complained that it
was very difficult excercise since they don`t have any friends who are
different color and in Finland you do not see so much people of color in
the streets. I aswered that maybe that is why the excersise was good; that
they had to imagine what it is when you are not white and not privilaged.
Do you have similar experience?

Thank you in advance,
Jonna Roos
jonna.roos  AT
Date: Wed, 2 Apr 2003 11:52:29 +0300
From: Jonna Roos <jroos AT MAPPI.HELSINKI.FI>
Subject: Privilage excercise
Dear listmembers,

Thank you for your answers. Many of you answered that it is good to have an
excercise which is concentrating on other things than race, like class,
age, etc.

Next Thursday I will have an excercise, in which students are given
different identities. One of them is a Saame woman (Native Finn), one of
them is a Romany man (10 000 Romanys in Finland), one of them is Finnish-
Swedish (minority group which is upper-class and priviledged) one them is
from Somali (Somali refugees in Finland 5 000) and so on. Then I will use
one of the excercises mentioned in WMST-L archive, in which there are
questions concerning race, class, education, age and so on.

So by doing this excercise I will concentrate on Finnish situation and by
doing that I hopefully teach students that whiteness is local, but also
global phenomenon. Let`s see how it will work!

Thank you for your guidance and thank you Joan for keeping this list and
Jonna Roos
jonna.roos  AT

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