White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

The article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack discusses white privilege in our society. White privilege is being able to see your race highly represented in media, books, and advertisements. It is being able to walk around freely in a store or anywhere in public without worrying about what others think about you. White privilege is a set of free benefits given to a person all because of their skin colour. It surprises me that certain privileges are given to people based off the amount of melanin in their skin cells – Why must some people be considered more superior than others because of the amount of pigmentation in their skin? I believe that this is the reason why McIntosh refers to white privilege as an “invisible package of unearned assets”, because they are not earned, they are simply given.

For people of colour, we must work hard to break these preconceived notions and stereotypes. Most of the time, people have already established what they think of you even prior to getting to know you. In my personal experience as an Asian being born and raised in Canada, I’ve had several people assume that I am an expert at mathematics or state that I speak “very good English for an Asian”. I have also been told that I don’t look Asian because my eyes aren’t small enough. I believe that this is because the Asian culture is poorly represented in media. Most of the time, Asians are portrayed as very intelligent when it comes to math but are bad drivers and tend to speak broken English. Another example is that when there are Asian characters in cartoons, they often have smaller eyes than the other characters. With that, I have experienced people assuming that I fall into these stereotypical Asian categories and when people find out that I don’t conform to or fall into these stereotypes, I get called “white-washed”. This demonstrates that the lack of representation of different cultures and races causes people to become closed-minded towards them, which is one of the reasons why white privilege and whiteness must be addressed.

In my ECS 101 class, we discussed white privilege and the importance of speaking out about it. As future educators, we play a huge role in ensuring that our students are accepting and are open to other cultures. The way we discuss other cultures impacts how they see them – this even includes if we do not discuss them at all. Furthermore, not teaching or learning about other cultures can also leave a negative impact on students.

Last year, I completed my early childhood education diploma at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. One of the courses I took was called anti-bias education in which my teacher shared an example on race that stood out to me. She explained how most of the time when children realize their skin colour is different from others, they will point it out. A woman in my class who is black shared that whenever she is in public and she hears young children asking their parents about her skin colour, the parents would often reply with “shh”. Although this response is not insulting, it does not really teach the child anything. My teacher then shared an example of her daughter in daycare who had an Indian woman as her educator. She explained that one day, her daughter was continuously looking at and touching her educator’s arm, then looking down and touching her own arm. When the educator realized what the child was doing, rather than stopping it, she took the opportunity to make it a learning experience. The educator touched the child’s arm and said your skin is white, then let her touch her arm and said that it is brown. She explained how they are different colours, but they are both beautiful. By doing this, I believe that the child was able to learn that everyone unique, but that doesn’t make anyone less of a person.

I thought of this story during one incident that occurred during my fieldwork placement. The students were doing a colour by number activity. I was watching one boy colour a small section of his picture brown. When the student realized that he was colouring a person’s face he suddenly stopped colouring and said it was wrong. I looked at the paper and told the student that it says “brun” which is “brown” in French, so it was correct. He explained that it could not be that brown and that it had to be peach or a lighter brown. I told the student that there are people who have that colour of brown as their skin and that it was fine. The student had a look of realization on his face, looked at the paper, picked up his marker, and continued colouring with the same shade of brown. With that, I believe that being open to discussing race or answering children’s questions on race, rather than pushing these discussions aside, allows children to be more open and accepting towards them. It also helps children understand equality. On the other hand, pushing these discussions aside creates the assumption that it is wrong to talk about race or that being a different colour is not normal.

This article emphasizes that whiteness has become the “norm” in our society and to be able to break it is to address it. Although the topic may be uncomfortable to address, it must be or there will never be true equality in the world. To expand on this, McIntosh states “To redesign social systems, we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects.” (McIntosh, 2010). I believe this emphasizes that keeping silent about the reality of white privilege will only make it stronger and will cause more and more people to deny its existence.

Ending white privilege and creating true equality in the world is possible but will not be a quick process. McIntosh ends her article with the following statement:

“Although systemic change takes many decades, there are pressing questions for me and I imagine for some others like me if we raise our daily consciousness on the perquisites of being light-skinned. What will we do with such knowledge? As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage to weaken hidden systems of advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.” (McIntosh, 2010)

With that, while we wait for this change in society, we can teach our students to use this privilege as a platform to inspire others to make a difference in the world, rather than using it to put others down. We can teach our students and ourselves to be more aware of what is usually taken for granted or to stand up during unjust situations. As future educators, we have this advantage to inspire our future generations to put an end to inequality.


McIntosh, P. (2010) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

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