I am not ashamed to admit that I think about the color of my skin every day. When someone is rude to me, I assume it is because I am black. If I feel that I did not deserve a low grade, I blame it on my professor’s racist views. I have no idea how it feels to live without fearing that I will be mistreated because of my race. Reading Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” allowed me a peek into the life of a woman who does not have to worry whether she is being judged or treated unfairly because of her skin color.
When McIntosh wrote that she had benefited from white privilege, she meant that her skin color affords her fair treatment in situations where minorities are often disadvantaged. McIntosh’s comparison of white privilege to an “invisible package of unearned assets“ which she could count on “cashing in” is useful in defining white privilege. Beverly Daniel Tatum referenced McIntosh‘s essay in “Defining Racism: Can We Talk.” She wrote that as a white woman, McIntosh is likely to be “viewed as an individual, rather than as a member of a racial group” because of white privilege. Tatum wrote that it is important to note that McIntosh had never noticed she was receiving societal privileges because of her whiteness until they were brought to her attention. Most whites do not realize that their skin color benefits them in their everyday lives because of the elusive nature of white privilege.
Individual whites are privileged in our society, along with their entire culture. I do not know McIntosh or her dinner preferences, but let us imagine she made a very American meal consisting of hamburgers and fries last night. On the other hand, I prepared a meal that included soul food staples, such as collard greens and cornbread. The concept of societal racism suggests that most people in our society would prefer McIntosh’s meal because she is white, so it must be better. Also, I cooked food that is traditionally popular in the black community, which makes it unfavorable according to Joseph Scheurich and Michelle D. Young’s definition of societal racism. Their essay, “Coloring Epistemologies,” defined the term as a set of “societal or cultural assumptions, norms, concepts, habits, expectations, etc.” that favor one race over other races. Scheurich and Young wrote that it usually takes major social conflicts for societal racism to receive attention although it is embedded in our society and occurs on a wide scale.
I feel that if all Americans made small adjustments to our attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs, we could collectively decrease the negative impact white privilege and societal racism have on our society. McIntosh observed that whites deny systems of dominance exist, and I believe they could ease the unfair results of white privilege if they acknowledged its existence. Whites can resist white privilege by attempting to view all people as equals, regardless of their color. I know that this is easier said then done because we have all had negative stereotypes about other races instilled in our minds since we were young children, but we must strive to eradicate them from our lives. Blacks and other minorities need to understand that all whites do not benefit equally from white privilege because of factors such as socioeconomic status and religion. As a member of a minority race, when I assume that whites are privileged over me because of their race, I am only lending credibility to the institution of white privilege.
All races should acquire a better sense of other races’ cultures and traditions in an effort to resist societal racism. If we better understood the reasons behind each other’s customs and lifestyles, mutual appreciation and respect could be created between the races. No longer would we be able to cite ignorance as the reason for our prejudices and racist views. This particular strategy could help us realize that no group or culture in our society should be held in higher favor than another because they all possess equally meaningful traits and characteristics.
Written in Fall 2007 for a women’s studies course