Reading Response for White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack by Peggy McIntosh


My first thought when reading this post was the author sounds like a Smithie. Turns out she currently works at Wellesley – so I wasn’t too far off the mark.

I’ve actually seen this writing before, but adapted in other ways. I’ve seen it as facebook posts and tweets listing all of the “Daily Effects of White Privilege”, also with more added (this was written in the 80’s after all).

This article was challenging yet true. Challenging because I am a white individual who absolutely reaps the unintended benefits she mentions. However I am very well aware of those benefits, and my life after undergrad placed me face to face with those privileges daily, as I met more and more diverse people in my life.

What is the most interesting proposition in this piece to me is the following quote:

“To redesign social systems we first need to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials of white privilege are the key political tool here.”

This implies almost a sinister overarching mythology of denying white privilege, thereby maintaining a myth that America is indeed a meritocracy, when it is really a color-coded meritocracy (i personally wouldn’t even say it is that… more like a know-who-ocracy).

However this process isn’t contained in the hands of just one person or group, it is a ripple effect of millions of white people’s unawareness of the privileges they are accorded, while a few thousand who are in power who probably keep it that way. Scary stuff!

Even as a white individual this is terrifying. Power systems like this rarely oppress just selected people. People crave power, and crave staying in power. The idea of controlling cultural opinion – although as old of time – to keep power structures in place is just kind of sick.


  • Who are the people who benefit the most from these power structures? Who are the shapers of opinion?
  • The internet is seen as a “democratizing” force because it somewhat democratizes information. How has internet and mobile connectivity helped to combat embedded privilege since the author wrote this piece.
  • Where in this chain does the media lay? Do they reinforce these advantages? Do they combat them? Do they question them?

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