Still unpacking our invisible knapsack

If you choose to talk about racism today, in addition to or instead of “just” the life or impact of Dr. King, Peggy McIntosh’s article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is one that has been used by diversity and social justice educators for years.

This is one of the first written by a white person to talk about privilege; with gender privilege as a “soft” opening to the discussion. It is an easy ready and has been used at all levels; from high school students to professionals. (The reading level may be above that of lower-school kids, even though the subject matter is not.)

I will use it today as a conversation starter, with the explicit intention to address my students of color separately, privately about their experience. I intend to honor all perspectives, as long as they are respectful by forcing a largely silent reflection on the piece. I have chosen to use a version that explains a little more than the original, and hope that in reading the whole thing, conversation extends beyond the classroom. My reflection model for today is “head, heart, hands: what do you think? how do you feel? and what do you want to do?”

One thing to be particularly careful of – while this can be powerfully eye opening, it can also induce guilt.

It’s ok to let students sit with that feeling, while reminding them that the essence of privledge is that it is unasked for and unearned. The things McIntosh observes do not position any one person as a “racist” but rather draw attention to the group or societal level of these issues.

If nothing else, I encourage that you read it as a reminder to us all of how much work there still is to do.

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