“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” — Peggy McIntosh
During my Master’s program a few years ago, one of the articles we were assigned to read was “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh. Although this article is now over 20 years old, I have to admit, prior to this read and the dialogue that followed, I had often considered how some people face oppression but I have never looked at it from the angle of the advantages that I had as a heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class, white male.
To get to where I am now, I have really had to overcome very little. Things were not handed to me but in reflection, I now realize the many hurdles in life that I did NOT have to clear.
McIntosh’s article is a must read. In addition to her list of 26 items (please read them) she has available in her knapsack, I have come up with an additional 15 that I see has given me advantages to get where I am.
- Very few jokes are targeted at my race, class, or sexual orientation.
- Very few people make fun of the way I talk or look.
- When my wife and I are in public, nobody questions our relationship.
- If I want to choose something (ie. a school for my child) I have the cultural capital (funding, knowledge, transportation, etc) to make and follow up on this decision.
- I have never had to overcome a physical first impression to earn respect. I also have always had access to a wardrobe that is suitable (not top of the line) for any occasion and did not NEED to buy anything to make an impression (both as a child and as an adult).
- My Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with people of a similar race, class, and sexual orientation.
- I do not have to worry about a person intimidating me because of my race, class, gender, or sexual orientation.
- When I applied to rent and purchase homes and vehicles, nobody questioned me based on my physical appearance.
- I go through airport and border security without as many questions.
- If I want financial advice or support, I have family members to go to.
- My parents were treated with respect in my school and had no problem entering the school to question or meet with my teachers. They also trusted the system as they had a positive education experience. My parents and relatives were not forced to attend a school to strip them of their culture.
- My parents were able to register me for any and every sport/club that I desired. I was able to attend any field trip or pay any school fee that was required. They were also able to send me to university without hesitation.
- When I attend PAC meetings, there are very few (sometime zero) people of a different race.
- I do not have to walk very far or look very hard to find an educator in my district with a similar race and background.
- There are no headlines stating the status of failure rate of my race/culture nor is their highly publicized alarming information about literacy and graduation rates of middle class white males (my class and race are not told over and over again how we are failing in schools). How do we expect success if someone is told over and over again that they are a failure?
BONUS: although this did not give me a huge advantage, as a child I was able to choose “flesh” coloured crayons to colour pictures of my family.
I am so thankful for what my parents were and are able to provide for my family. Both my parents worked extremely hard to get where they are today; too, I have worked my tail off to get to where I am. However (and that is a big however), what I need to be aware that so many others are not provided with the same advantages in school and in life that I have. Many, many others work just as hard as (or harder than) I do but are not provided with the same open doors as a result. Before making any decisions at our school, I need to be careful of the lens I look through. I must also truly listen to and value the needs and voices of others as their knapsack may be much emptier than mine; decisions that appear to be good for some may actually further marginalize others.
I could list many more items that provide me with advantages in life but instead, I ask you: What is in your invisible knapsack?
The goal of this post is not to create pity nor is it to further “otherize” but to encourage awareness and reflection of the current advantages that many of us have. I’d love to hear your thoughts.