Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Settler Privilege

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Samoset comes “boldly” into Plymouth settlement. Woodcut designed by A.R. Waud and engraved by J.P. Davis (1876).

By Dina Gilio-Whitaker. Reposted from Beacon Broadside.

November is Native American Heritage Month, when we as American Indian people get to have the mic for a little while. So, I’d like to take my turn at the virtual mic to talk about settler privilege, something you likely have never thought of, or have never even heard of. What you have undoubtedly heard of, however, is white privilege.

Peggy McIntosh first popularized the concept of white privilege in her now-classic 1989 essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” The impact of her essay was due at least in part to its clarity and readability; it broke down into a list of easy to understand ideas why white people have unearned advantages in society based on their skin color. Not that it was necessarily easy for white people to accept that they are in fact “more equal” than others, but the essay opened up a conversation that has gained serious traction in our social discourse, especially now when racism is on full, unobstructed display in this Trumpian moment.   Continue reading

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Peggy MacIntoshBy Peggy McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women

I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions. Continue reading

On the Trail Together: Confessing Resonances in Anti-Oppression Work

cara curtisBy Cara Curtis. Cara Curtis took part in Word & World’s 2011-2012 mentoring program. A former resident of Philadelphia, she now studies and centers her activism at Harvard Divinity School.

During my years at an elite, majority-white, social justice-oriented liberal arts college, I joined many of my fellow students in a process of awakening that many call “unpacking the invisible knapsack.” Coined in a landmark 1988 article of the same name by Peggy McIntosh, this phrase refers to a process of learning and re-evaluation in which people of privilege—economic, sexual, gender expressive, or in McIntosh’s case racial—begin to realize the ways that their lives are made easier solely by virtue of belonging to a dominant group. With practice, people also become vocal about calling out this privilege when they see it. They actively try to minimize their dominance in order to create greater opportunity and space for folks with non-dominant identities to thrive. Continue reading