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White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

This article was originally published in the Spring 2000 issue of the CFT’s newsletter, Teaching Forum.

Peggy McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, visited Vanderbilt and gave a series of presentations, including the Women’s Center’s annual Margaret Cuninggim Lecture, on Feb. 28 and 29, under the partial sponsorship of the Center for Teaching.

In her article entitled “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” (© 1988) McIntosh explains how we are often blind to the ways we are privileged in comparison to others. She states:

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 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 which 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 checks.

McIntosh distributes only paper copies of this article as she uses the copyright fees to support the SEED project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity). If you are interested in receiving a copy of the full article or in supporting SEED, please contact McIntosh’s assistant, Marguerite Rupp, at