When I first read “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh, my jaw hung open. As I read McIntosh’s list of daily effects of white privilege, I felt absolutely overcome with emotion. I had never understood, or thought about, why people of color would feel oppressed in their daily lives before. McIntosh puts into words my mindset before reading her essay, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” Suddenly, as a white woman, I was so cognizant of the color of my skin and the color of everyone’s skin around me. I would sit in class and realize that most of the people around me were white, my professors, my friends. I began to imagine what it would be like if my skin color made me a minority, and how I would feel. McIntosh’s essay started a fire in me that can never be put out. I became conscious of the daily oppression people of color face, and after that I will never be able to ignore my privilege as a white women.
Since reading Peggy McIntosh’s writing, I constantly question how I can be an ally to minorities and people of color. On one hand, I think the issues that people of color are currently facing are so intricate and vast that it’s something I, as a white woman, can’t even speak on. I will never fully know or understand what they’ve faced and overcome. On the other hand, I can’t sit around and do nothing. I have to be an ally. To me, one of the best ways to be an ally and fight against race inequality is to realize that I can’t write off or ignore those realities that I haven’t lived. If I hear that my black peers feel that their lives don’t matter, or that they feel oppressed in their daily lives, I will fully support them and help as best I can to combat the injustice they battle. It will never be my place to tell my black peers that there are no race issues or injustices when it is something I could not understand since I have never walked in their shoes. I ask questions to educate myself more on racial injustice and how to be more sensitive to the black community. Even though I may not know everything, I am always eager to learn more about what I can do to be an ally and welcome constructive criticism in regards to my actions and speech. I realize that being white is a privilege and feel compelled to use that privilege for the good of all people in our society.
You can read a bit more about Dr. Peggy McIntosh here.
Women’s Center Staff