The Invisible Knapsack

This week’s reading was from the National SEED Program in the form of an article written by Dr. Peggy McIntosh about “unpacking the invisible knapsack of white privilege”.  I came to the reading a bit late this week, so it is hard for me to determine if my thoughts and feelings are about the reading itself or about the annotation conversations surrounding it.  Most likely a little of both.  In this article McIntosh takes a deep look into white privilege and the implications that it has had throughout her life.  She starts the conversation of awareness (although I am still feeling a bit lost as to how exactly to tackle the problem).

This reading was pretty eye opening for me.  I like to consider myself to be someone who is culturally aware, and I have never and will never deny the existence of white privilege.  Still, when I was reading this article, there were so many things that had never crossed my mind before.  I think one of the most interesting pieces for me was the idea that we, as a society, think of whiteness as a baseline of sorts.  We think that in order for the racial divide to be closed, people of color should act like, and be treated like us. Even though our privilege as white people is unearned, as it is simply something we are born with, it is still something that confers dominance over other groups of people.

“I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.”

This for me, and I assume many others, is a tough but necessary pill to swallow.

After reading this article, I was tempted at first to look for a scholarly article that looks at the next steps, as throughout it I just kept thinking, “where to we start?” but when I took a look back at the 26 conditions she listed, and how so many of them were things I had never given any thought to, I changed my search to look for similar conditions, but focused specifically on elementary school classrooms.  I found this article, which admittedly, might not be entirely scholarly, but important in my search none-the-less, in which the author discusses 13 ways in which white male privilege shows up as early as elementary school.  Once again, there were some things in the article that I have given a lot of thought to such as the availability (or lack thereof) of resources to certain groups of people and certain schools, and the fact that most if not all of the text books we use in schools are written by white males.  There were other things, such as the writer’s inability to complete family tree activities due to slavery, that I had never given thought to.  I end my school year with a family tree activity.  I only ask my students to go back two generations in a hope to understand how they ended up in Colorado, but it had honestly never crossed my mind that this activity might be more difficult – or even impossible – for some of my students because of their race.

The bottom line that I have come to through these readings is that these conversations need to be ongoing and they need to be productive.  I honestly have no idea how to make them productive, but the fact that I (someone who likes to think of herself as “aware”) was still surprised by some of the conditions presented in these readings, means that much of this privilege is still invisible, and needs to be constantly addressed, until there is change.

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One thought on “The Invisible Knapsack

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I like the direction you took your interest-driven reading. Sounds like it was a great choice for practical considerations in your classroom. I also left you some annotations:)

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