I think whites are carefully taught not to recognise white privilege, as males are taught not to recognise 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 each day, but about which I was `meant' to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools and blank cheques.
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 which I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-colour privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographical location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can see, my African-American co-workers, friends and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place, and line of work cannot count on most of these conditions.
1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in 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 neighbours 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 harassed or followed.
5. I can turn on the television or open 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 colour made it what it is.
7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular material 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. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
11. Whether I use cheques, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin colour not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability.
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 colour 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 behaviour 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 Internal Revenue Service 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 magazines 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 accommodations 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 and bandages in `flesh' colour and have them more or less match my skin.
I repeatedly forgot each of the realisations on the list until I wrote it down. For me white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one's life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own.
Peggy McIntosh, USA
Excerpts from her working paper, ``White Privilege and Male Privilege; A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women's Studies,'' copyright 1988. Permission to reprint must be obtained from Peggy McIntosh, Wellesley College Center for research on Women, Wellesley, MA 02181. Tel: 001-617-431-1453.