White Privilege: Peggy McIntosh's Essay

Categories: White Privilege

Privilege is a word that is commonly avoided or rejected by those receiving it. Privilege is very closely related to inequality; the primary difference between the two is that one is recognized much more than the other. What most people do not understand is that privilege or inequality is the effect in which prejudice is the cause. Although many people acknowledge inequality, what most people fail to recognize is that inequality is created by privilege: an undeserving advantage rewarded to those who are not discriminated against and the outcome of all negative stigmas and stereotypes, whether they are related to race, sexuality, gender, religion, or any other classification.

Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: The Invisible Knapsack” is an essay that gives very detailed illustrations of every day privileges that are granted to some people due to racism. McIntosh's work shines a different light on inequality: as something that gives part of a population unearned advantages instead of something that disadvantages the others.

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For example, McIntosh lists being able to find "bandages in ‘flesh' color and have them more or less match [her] skin” or being a part of a culture that "gives [her] little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races” as two of the many white privileges she is rewarded for no compelling reason (McIntosh 354-355). McIntosh notes that some of these privileges she receives are only what one would want for everyone in a just society,” and that plenty of others only “give license to be ignorant, oblivious, arrogant, and destructive” (McIntosh 355).

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Just as McIntosh mentions, far too many of these privileges give white people way too much undeserving power that allows them to be much more careless than races that are less privileged. Because McIntosh's essay was published about twenty-five years ago, some of the privileges she lists are less prevalent than they used to be.

For instance, many bandage brands now create gauze for virtually every single skin tone, but actually finding these differently pigmented bandages is much more than just a simple task. Plenty of people have argued that racism and the effects it brings about is no longer as large-scale as it used to be, which is true up to a certain extent. The bottom line is that, though parts of McIntosh's list are less of a problem in today's society, far too many of the fifty privileges still exist and are unreasonably obtained by white people every single day. John Scalzi discusses the inherited privileges caused by racism as well, while also adding sexuality and gender into the mix in his blog post, “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” Scalzi's analogical approach of explaining privilege in the form of a difficulty setting in a video game makes it hard to reject the theory.

While describing the essence of playing life on the lowest difficulty setting, he also came up with a rebuttal to those who argue against his case, stating that “it's certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence, and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn't change the fact that you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting" (Scalzi). Scalzi also asserts that a straight white man “can lose playing on the lowest difficulty setting,” but that doesn't change the evidence that it “is still the easiest to win on” (Scalzi).

Both assertions Scalzi makes strengthen the theory of privilege; it is not a free ride through life, but more of a crutch that some can take advantage of while everyone else must drag their feet. Shifting away from race and sexuality and honing in on gender, the amount of unearned privileges rewarded solely because of one's sex is almost absurd. In the given Male Privilege Checklist is a long list of expectations men can assume to have due to their gender, such as a guarantee that a career failure "won't be seen as a black mark against their entire sex's capabilities,” contrary to what women may experience. Males also have the benefit of being "under much less pressure to be thin than [their] female counterparts are” and “probably suffer fewer social and economic consequences for being fat than fat women do."

Adding onto that advantage is the ability for a man to want to be able-bodied for himself and his own health without others assuming he is doing so for those of the opposite sex or others in society. It is often assumed in today's day and age that women only want to be physically fit to show their bodies off to men. This theory can easily be proven by the mass amounts of advertisements spewed all over the media on how to get the “perfect bikini body” or “perfect legs” to show off in high heels. The advantages that men receive over women are without a doubt due to the ceaseless and all too familiar judgments made on women in society, from typical expectations as to what roles women should assume all the way to body image ideals for women being displayed all over the media. It is quite obvious that, similar to McIntosh's case, some of these privileges should be rewarded to both men and women, and some should not be given to either sex because they only promote ignorance and carelessness. Similar to eliminating privileges and achieving equality in any other matter, finding gender equality can only be accomplished by ending all inequitable judgments on the issue. Privileges are a set of unearned advantages rewarded to specific groups of people for no valid reason.

What most people fail to understand, however, is that privilege is the direct effect of prejudice and discrimination, two issues that society has wanted to conquer for what seems like forever. When and only when privilege is acknowledged thoroughly throughout society as the inequality created by the biases and preconceptions of specific groups of people ranging from gender to race and even beyond that will society be able to begin working towards equality.

Works Cited

  1. Greene, Stuart, and April Lidinsky. From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text and Reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's 2008. Print.
  2. Scalzi, John. "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is." John Scalzi - Whatever | MIGHT BE LOST BUT NOT FORGOTTEN. WordPress.com VIP, 15 May 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/>.
Updated: May 03, 2023
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White Privilege: Peggy McIntosh's Essay. (2021, Sep 27). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/daily-privileges-due-to-racism-in-white-privilege-the-invisible-knapsack-an-essay-by-peggy-mcintosh-essay

White Privilege: Peggy McIntosh's Essay essay
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