White privilege is a touchy subject, especially for those white people who feel that the world has kicked them while they were down. How can we call that homeless Caucasian veteran on the sidewalk of New York in the dead of winter privileged? Does his skin color discount his daily struggles? This way of thinking can—and has—sparked conflict between people of different races who fight over what being ‘privileged’ truly means. The misunderstanding of this concept has been heightened due to the social media storm of modern-day racism in recent years. Some even argue that the term “white privilege” represents an obstacle to equality.
Luckily, the concept of ‘intersectionality’ can help sharpen the blurred edges of white privilege. Intersectionality clarifies that people may be privileged in certain ways and not privileged in others, but it is important to note that identities (gender, race, class) cannot be considered independently. For example, the aforementioned war veteran does indeed have certain privileges due to his race, while he may lack financial privileges. His skin color may not prevent poverty, but it does prove to be advantageous in other ways. These advantages and disadvantages overlap and interact together to form his landscape of opportunities.
This begs the question, what are the privileges that whiteness entails? Anti-racism activist Peggy McIntosh has formed a concept of white privilege as an “invisible knapsack,” reinforcing that certain white privileges that we carry go unacknowledged, which may lead to strife. McIntosh constructed a list of fifty advantages that are implied with whiteness. I have attached a photo of the first 21 advantages below:
Reading through this list—which ranges from mundane activities such as shopping to serious matters such as activism—opened my eyes to how many things I encounter daily that is no issue for me but very problematic for others. For example, if I were to move or travel somewhere, I would not be concerned with how my neighbors would react to me. This is not the case for my black contemporaries, many of whom feel trapped in certain neighborhoods or afraid to travel to some places. Another white privilege that I fail to appreciate is #20: “I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.” White people who are good at math or good at sports are commended and treated as a remarkable talent. However, throughout my years of school I have heard kids not commending their peers for achievements because “all Asians are good at math” or “black people are good at sports.” These stereotypes are an utter disservice to the work people put in as persevering individuals, and that saddens me.
In sum, white privilege does indeed exist. As a female, I may not make as much money as my male counterparts, but I have white privilege. A homeless veteran may not be able to feed himself day by day, but he has white privilege. If we recognize the existence of white privileges, perhaps bridges can be built and we will be a step closer to understanding our advantages and disadvantages as unique individuals.