Having been involved in the field of Women’s Studies, Peggy McIntosh is quite familiar with privileges held by men that seldom get acknowledged. The issue here is not blatant male chauvinism, but a subtler, unconscious and systemic flaws that undermine the notion of equality between sexes. Extending the same analysis to the domain of race, Peggy McIntosh comes to a similar conclusion, that white skinned individuals enjoy several advantages over their colored counterparts which are often unrecognized. In other words, McIntosh tries to distinguish between the two variants of racism: black oppression and white privilege. In contemporary socio-political discourse the term ‘racism’ is synonymous with the first variety. The second variety is hardly ever recognized, let alone being discussed and rectified. This in essence is McIntosh’s contention about White Privilege. What makes her thesis more robust is the list of forty odd manifestations of this privilege that McIntosh provides. Most of these instances of white privilege are noticeable in common, everyday social interactions.
Going through the list of privileges that the white people in the United States enjoy over their colored compatriots, a case is to be made of the unfairness created by this situation. Since white-skinned individuals are so oblivious to the advantages they hold over other racial minorities, it does not induce them to act and rectify this imbalance. A majority of white people remain unaware of their continued subjugation of people of other races. When we talk of subjugation of people, notions such as slavery, indentured labor and colonialism come to mind. What we don’t realize is the hundreds of subtler and smaller points of subjugation that happen all the time, but nevertheless add up to seriously undermine equality between the different racial groups. This way the whites come across as arrogant and indifferent to others. This apparent arrogance is born out of their ignorance of certain harsh social realities.
Peggy McIntosh’s synthesis on White Privilege is as relevant today as it ever was. In election campaigns for the Presidency, Senate and the House of Representatives, the issue of immigration invariably comes up. But considering that racial minorities are under-represented in these legislative institutions, there is reason to believe that aspects of White Privilege is at work here. As a result, the legislations passed may make it tougher for colored people to seek refuge and residence in the country. We already see the swelling numbers of illegal immigrants in the country, a large percentage of whom are Hispanics from Central American countries. The politicians may claim that there is no racist agenda and that the entry barriers were erected for purely pragmatic reasons. But seen in light of Peggy McIntosh’s theory of white privilege, the immigration laws of the United States perfectly fit the model. It should also be noted that white privilege is not an immutable sociological condition. The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President is a testament to this fact. Hence, with greater awareness of historical injustices against racial minorities and the acknowledgement of their present manifestations, we can expect a gradual path to progress.
Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, retrieved from <www.case.edu/president/aaction/UnpackingTheKnapsack.pdf> on 17th November, 2009.