‘White Privilege’ author Peggy McIntosh gives CSRRR spring lecture
Peggy McIntosh believes she is privileged, and she says every other white person is, too.
From something as simple as the ability to buy a Band-Aid that matches her skin to never having been asked to speak for every member of her race, as a white she is part of an invisible system of advantages. By ignoring the existence of this system, her whiteness will only perpetuate, alienating and oppressing blacks.
The author of “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” made remarks on these topics March 14 in the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom for the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations’ annual spring lecture. The room was overflowing with a diverse audience who had come to hear McIntosh’s thoughts on what she’d first written about in 1988.
“White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks,” McIntosh wrote in the essay. At the event, she explained that a person can’t be blamed for being born with that knapsack and being taught to look down upon those who don’t have it. By being white, McIntosh was inherently a student of that lesson.
The idea that “whites are knowers, and knowledge is white” was something she was taught from a young age. In order to overcome this worldview, McIntosh said she consciously installs “alternative software” that allows her to learn from the people she was taught to look down upon. Without doing this, “the old hard drive gives a special scrutiny to everything (blacks) say — as though I can’t quite trust it, or my mind is probably superior. That’s the knowledge I was raised to (believe).” In order for change to occur, all whites must become aware of their habits and deliberately chose to see past the societal system that has taught them they are better simply because of race.
McIntosh challenged every person in the room to consider the ways in which he or she was privileged and disadvantaged by having audience members turn to a partner and discuss. The result, for many, was a new awareness of racial disparity.
“Those who happen to be born into the group that is given the benefit of the doubt, given jobs, assumed to be good with money, assumed to be reliable with families” are given a “tremendous power,” McIntosh said. “I urge all whites here to use your white power … — which you have more of than you were taught — to weaken the system of white power, and it will alter your friendships, your relationships, (and) your relationship to life itself.”
McIntosh’s lecture “generated interest and buzz like no others have,” said Katheryn Russell-Brown, director of the CSRRR. “Its brilliance is in its nondebatable simplicity: race matters, whiteness matters, white privilege matters, white privilege exists.”
Sharon Rush, associate dean for faculty development, echoed Russell-Brown’s praises for McIntosh’s work.
“Understanding that whiteness is a race, and understanding how white privilege functions are two essential steps that every white person must take if we, as a society, are to develop healthy race relations and achieve racial justice,” she said.
McIntosh is the associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, and is founder and co-director of the National Seeking Education Equity and Diversity, or SEED, Project on Inclusive Curriculum. She also directs the Gender, Race and Inclusive Education Project. Myriad organizations have invited McIntosh to help them learn about race and race relations, including the United Nations, the Little Rock Civil Rights commission, Minority Museum, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Space Science Technology Institute, NASA Space Center, as well as many public schools, churches, religious organizations, colleges and universities.
Her visit marked the 11th year the CSRRR has held a spring lecture on the law school campus. UF Law is one of five American law schools with a race center. The center is dedicated to fostering communities of dialogue on race and focuses on designing and supporting programs to enhance race-related curriculum.