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White Privilege

During my undergrad education, I came across "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack" by Peggy McIntosh. She points out that white people are taught to see racism as “individual acts of meanness, not in individual systems conferring dominance on my group.” People fail to recognize that our society is built upon white dominance, which has given white people unearned privileges. I decided to share this because it is impossible to talk about racism, unless one understands their unearned privileges. I've added a quote from her writing that identifies 26 of her daily effects of white privilege and where white dominance is clear.

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

10. Whether I checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

12. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazine featuring people of my race.

21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.

22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.

23. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

25. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

McIntosh explains many white people do not see themselves as taking advantage of these unearned privileges. Some will argue that our society is built upon meritocracy, where if people work hard enough than they can achieve their goals. But they neglect to recognize that racism is embedded in all social, political, and economical systems to exclude non-whites. I want to believe that we live in a society, where it is just and free for everyone. But the only way to have a just society is for white people to acknowledge their unearned privileges and be willing to give it up.
msalexh msalexh 31-35, F 19 Responses Sep 27, 2012

Your Response


Thats an awesome post. It puts so many things into perspective.

Why should we give up anything. Our race built this country and we earned our place here.

Obviously you consider the fact that "your race" is the most oppressive, dangerous, self centered culture on the planet a right and that has "given" you advantages.
A race willing to see people as animals and not people based on the color of their skin. That view justifies enslaving and dehumanizing a whole people group.
A race willing to wipe out over 6 million Jews because they were Jews.
A race willing to drop an atomic bomb on two cities filled with civilians as an illustration of their willingness to create mass destruction to support their cause.
A race so bent on maintaining their political position in America that they would willingly break the law to do so.
A race so blind to what humanity is that they believe just because of their skim tone they are a different race than the rest of the people on the planet. Not recognizing that there is only one race, the human race.

One that could apply to young females: "I can go to virtually any women's clothing store and not have to wonder if the clothes will adhere to my body type."

In our society being thin or young is also a privilege.

But there are a few of us men who appreciate older wiser women who are not thin as common 'law' dictates.

Wrong. You get one shot at being young. You choose to be fat or thin.

I would suggest that it might be difficult to address racial subjects like white privilege, advantage or elitism if I were, and it made me feel guilty. No one likes feeling guilty as if it were criminal. And this is why racism continues to be rationalized and shifted to imply that the disadvantages or mistreatment voiced by black people are of their own merit because as insinuated, they are lazy complainers who lack ambition or gratitude that they are not still slaves. Never mind any historic contribution to American society and pop culture.

Often times I am reminded in by the media about how all these white business forefathers worked so hard and gave blood sweat and tears to found all the great companies that make our lives to wonderful today. But what were all those slaves they owned doing at that time? Playing dominoes? Hah... Oh sure there are plenty of wealthy black folks around. And you can be sure just by what your article states, that they had to put in probably three times as much blood sweat and tears to come up three times behind your average white man attempting the same endeavor.

"I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared."<br />
<br />
I can't. It's not my skin though, it's the damage I'm carrying.

If anyone is of the misbelief that overt racism is taking place, head over to FetLife, deary me,an alternative community, where you have race role play groups, but mark my words, nothing playful about what is said in such groups.
Number 12 is so true.
If a White person is a bit loud on public transport, it is *just because*, however if a Black, it is *can these Black, shut up for few minutes*.
Not surprised your first comment claims you hate yourself, without actually commenting on this list, all very telling.
I must say, I find nothing worse than when a White person suffers *White guilt*, makes me cringe,and have been known to say..*please...enough already*, however for one to e aware of what you speak of above is not White guilt, more so...awareness...and a lot of it.

I just joined there, and I was noticing I didn't see any people of color in the posted pictures....
I know I was working adjacent to a hotel in which a kinky party was being held all weekend a few years ago.
...And it was entirely African-American swingers.
I suspect the kinky people are very racially self-segregated.

I wouldn't state Fetlife as a source for pretty much ANYTHING... Fetlife is one of the most privilege-only pushed places I've ever seen online: "Kinky &amp; Popular" is for about 95% young, white, thin, beautiful, bi-curious (heterosexually serving the male fantasy), submissive girls. While if you'd visit any real life open kinky event, you'd have to look closely to spot these girls, yes, even at "18 - 30 years old only"-parties I used to attend.

Lots of exclusion going on, it messes up my own BDSM experience, so I left.

Love your fro vibes msalexh;-) thanks fof this, interesting read.

Thanks! :)

well, it seems to me that the liberal media has taught another European-American person to hate themselves simply for being born into their race. they must be so proud, to hear how you hate your biological blueprint...

I suggest you reread my post. There's nothing said about hate. I'm writing about privilege.

While much of what is quoted here is true, much of it has been left behind in our history. As to unearned privilege, it is not unearned just because someone else was disadvantaged. Yes some people of colour are unfairly treated and I whole heartedly agree that systemic racism needs to be tackled by not just the government but by each and every citizen regardless of colour or creed. To that end I do not stand idly by and do nothing when I am witness to it, but as a full time wage earner with both family and community commitments I am not in a position to do much other than be a good example. Some of it is also now reversed depending on where one lives. My children go to a public school and can pretty much be certain that, as white Canadian born children from a European heritage, are not only outnumbered in their clubs, teams and school, but are frequently the only white child among the group. They see and feel discrimination on a daily basis and yet do not return it in kind. The solutions to this long time problem are not easy and will only come when racism is not met with more racism in return. What this posting calls unearned privilege are mostly human rights and no one should be willing to give them up. We should all be willing to try to engender them for those who feel excluded. Bringing one person down to the reality of another does not help anyone. Thank you for posting a thought provoking article.

Very true, Alexh! Very true indeed! I agree. It tends to humor me how a lot of white people like to say that racism is over in this country and that blacks are no longer slaves. True to the last part, but there is still A LOT of racism that goes on in this country.

And what you posted actually goes in toe with something I've been working on myself, proving that in western culture women - particularly white women - have gotten ahead and have more done for them than for any other demographic. The women's lib movement has achieved many of its goals, yet the civil rights movement and even hispanic movements have been little heard and recognized by white society.

Women in this country are still complaining about so much yet have more than "minorities" do (-and when I parenthesize that I mean that minorities are not really the minority: blacks have been undercounted by the census for years but actually outnumber whites, and the government hates for us to know that-). The pay gap for women is still an argument yet "minorities" would love to be able to even make as much as women do. Women will get favor from the legal and justice system regularly, while blacks and hispanics still face racial profiling in the same system. And even in history: women could vote before blacks, could hold better jobs than blacks when women COULD begin working outside the home, and to date there have ever only been 123 black Congress people while there have been 229 women, and only SIX black senators, but 39 women senators. So when women and feminists complain about women still not getting ahead what are they talking about?!?! They've had more opportunities than blacks and other races!

Thank you for sharing that very interesting piece, and one we all know is true even if we don't admit it.

I did not believe racism will ever demise, as it system that allow white peoples to have privileges that are not given to people of colour. I cannot compare which is worse sexism or racism because both systems are based upon control and the oppression of others. I believe the two intertwine with one another and feed off each other.

I do agree with you that women do get leaner prison sentences compared to men and there is a lack of representation of black people in office. But how many are women of colour? Yes, women had the right to vote before black men but the right to vote wasn't given to black women. I live in Canada and black and asian women were not allowed to vote until 1947. Aboriginal women were not allowed to vote until 1960. These women, who are the first people, were given the last right to vote. Where I live, women of colour are one of the most marginalized. We are paid less, more likely to live poverty, be victimized, have our concerns ignored by the government and police, and the list goes on and on. I am a womanist and I can tell you that women of colour are not getting ahead in life. We do not have more opportunities than others. There are privileges that are given to men that not given to women, especially women of colour.

Much of the same goes on in my country, and I'm an American. Black women got duel voting points as blacks were originally given the right to vote shortly after the Civil War and women in general could vote gradually through the 1860s onward, so if a black woman wasn't hindered by the laws and intimidations that the government used to keep blacks from voting, they probably could've voted before black men.

There have been to date 32 black Congresswomen, and to date only one black woman in the Senate. Women of color do suffer, but yet still get more than men of color in some ways: they are less likely to be racially profiled in crime but more likely to be punished harder for theirs than a white woman, can get government aid easier than men of color can, are targetted for violent crime less than men of color, and can still get the privelages of white women if they follow the rules whites set.

Another very troubling thing for me and one I'm also working on for a book is the fact that where women have not wanted to be mistreated and oppressed, they often through history have had no problem contributing to or promoting hate and oppression for other people based on race, culture, and religion. White women along with white men, especially harbored intense hostility and dislike of native Americans because of their hair, dress, and notions that they were diseased and unclean when they were actually healthier and in better condition than the colonists and later the pioneers. White women right along with white men showed extreme disgust, disrespect, and phobia of blacks throughout the slave era and then after throughout the next century of segregation, and just like the white men with female slaves, the white women had no problem sleeping with the male slaves but didn't care about their freedom. The irony here is that white women wanted rights and equality back then, yet didn't mind black slaves not having them, and although there were certainly some white women who opposed slavery and helped free slaves, this was not the norm by far. German women, like German men, had equally intense hatred for the Jews during the Holocaust, and often seemed to be more fiery about it than the men, perhaps because as Aryan birth-givers they took the thought of a despised seed living in the same world with theirs very seriously, and they very much supported their men in fighting for the cause, just as medieval women supported their men in killing Muslims--because of Muslim religion-- to free the Holy Land during the Crusades. You also have Arab or Muslim women who are oppressed and kept from having opportunities, yet hate Jews, dark-skinned people, or Africans living in Middle Eastern nations and want them gone and feel that they're lowly, filthy, and don't deserve a chance even though they want a chance. British queens supported and promoted the slave trade - that included black slave women, and they also didn't care to do much for the average woman either. American First Ladies throughout our history are supposed to represent some motherly image who cares about all people regardless of their status, race, and creed, yet white First Ladies haven't ever cared about representing black, Hispanic, or Asian women. And on and on.

So that's how sexism and racism can be different.

Although, you make valid points that women are less likely to be racial profiled, get lighter sentences, easier to receive social assistance, etc, I disagree that women of colour get the same privileges as white women. Let me give you an example of this. There are 500 missing Aboriginal women from Canada. My government and police have not investigated what has happened to these women. I assume these women are dead, they will never be found, and their murderers will never go to prison. Yes, sexism and racism are different but there's an intersectionality between both that feed off one another. These women will not be found because they are women and notably they are women of colour, which our society does not value. I think it is harmful for me to compare myself to white women as we benefit from the same privileges. Because even if I followed the rules, some people will judge me based upon my race.

My problem with traditional feminism is it groups all women together. It promotes this idea of sisterhood and that women need to stand in solidary because we have similar concerns. This is simple untrue. The same white women that argue against the oppression of women and speak about men of colour, do not see that they are being oppressive to women of colour. Everything that happens to men of colour, such as high incarceration rates, is it not only harmful to these men but destroys their families and communities, thus impacting women of colour.

I said that if women of color choose to play by the rules of white people, yes, they are likely to get the same privelages of white women.

True about feminism, something I wholeheartedly agree with and write about in my gender book, exposing the racial prejudice of feminism and why black women's activists choose to call themselves womanists instead of feminists. It ties right into what I was saying about women supporting hate and oppression where they don't want it. They want rights and to be treated like humans, yet will have bias against other races and not want to see them as humans with a need for rights and equality.

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GREAT! Though I am mostly white and other, I look native american but I am not anyway some people see me as white and some people don't so I get a bit of both, but not as rough as you probably have it...anyway I have friends on this site, one in particular, he's multiracial I am going to mail him this story link cuz I think he may really like it, He looks mostly black..anyway great story, this should be published in all CAPS, thanks :)

I'm not sure that I have it as rough as some others. Where I live I've seen the destruction of Aboriginal peoples and communities. It is heartbreaking.

Please feel free to share it with others, as long as you quote me as the writer :)))

Cool :)

As a white male, it is very interesting to read this perspective, thank you for sharing. As a collegiate coach who coaches athletes from different cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, it does make sense with the perspective I see from some of my young people. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you for reading, commenting, and appreciating it :)

I'm a black female, and I work in an industry dominated by white males. When we attend a conference, and we are trying to attract people to our table to talk about our product, when I'm with my colleagues, something interesting happens: other whites, whom are 90% of our customers, come to the table very interested, and friendly wanting to sign up, but when I'm at the table by myself, behaving the same exact way as before, a lower percentage of people show interest in my product. Some give me the 'on/off' smile, and keep walking. A few stop and sit showing genuine interest, but most who stop are skeptical, questioning me much more than they do my co-workers. What has changed? It's the same product. I give them the same information. I'm a very friendly, smiley person. It's really ashamed, but I love what I do, so I stick with it. The guys tell me, say this, do that, as if it's me. Lol. They don't see it at all.

Oh, and they should have added to the list, the unlimited shades of beige makeup. The browns are limited, and last time I checked, we have a lot more colors.

Oh don't get me started about the limited shades of browns. :( I know there are cosmetic companies, like Bobby Brown, etc that cater to women of colour but where I live, it's nearly impossible to get.

Try not to be ashamed of being a black woman, remember that you are beautiful! :)

Thank you.:) I can see you are too!

I only see racism when if occurs I don't go looking for it, but it has found me. Of course even though my family was in this country first, the new comer engaged in a systematic anilation of our race, thankfully things have improved, at least once you are far enough off the reservations.

You're right we are never looking for it but it finds us.

Brilliant essay. Everyone should read this and the book you cited.

Thanks so much! It's an article but it's a great read!

Im not sure about giving up privlage,But i think its Our duty as human beings to ensure that
ALL enjoy the same privileges regardless of race or gender.Its slow in coming but perhaps
we will one day be a brother hood of man as God intended!

But the only way we can be equal is if no one has advantages over others.

This is excellent. It should explain why, at least in the U.S., anyway, there's never been a need for a formal NAAWP, UWCF, etc.

Unless you were Jewish---quotas on how many allowed into state universities, "no Jews" signs on apartment buildings, "restricted" clubs, etc.

Which is why the JFNA (which includes the ADL,B'nai Brith, etc.) does exist.

Incidentally, the NAACP has always had Jewish members, too. Albert Einstein was a member.

Considering that she's an American and wrote it in 1989, almost 40 years after NAAWP was formed, I'm not sure why she didn't include it.

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Mostly true, my only quibble might be that in some cases (historically at least) some of the points apply not so much to privilege as demographics---any race that represents the vast majority of a population will almost always find itself represented in advertising, jobs, art, music, etc. But as demographics change, I'd hope so would representation.

You have a point but I question why in some parts of the world, where white people are not the vast majority of the population, are still used in advertising, etc

Good question. Either prejudice or for some reason whites are the target audience.

This story needs a +1000000 rating to represent it's value. A real eye opener.

I was unsure if I should post it but your comment proves that someone appreciates it. Thanks!