Come, Come Whoever You Are: And Bring Your Knapsack

As a white person living in this culture, who wants to confront the white supremacy system that continues to run the institutions that we all participate in, I am coming to realize that this means owning how I benefit from that system. I do benefit from the system, and People of Color, whether I know and love them or not, do not.

Peggy McIntosh, Senior Research Associate in Women’s Studies at Wellesely College, published a paper in which she investigated what she calls the “Invisible Knapsack” or those daily conditions which white people live in that we may remain largely ignorant of but from which we benefit much.  In this excerpt of her published work, she lists 50 of these “items in the invisible knapsack.”  I am going to post a few here each day for the next few days for our consideration. In yesterday’s post, we looked at how being white shows up in community, in what we see and the voices we hear.

Today, let’s consider how the white supremacy system serves those of us who are white in the areas of culture, finances and education.  This are some of the 50 items on McIntosh’s list.

I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

Culture, money and education.  They are systems bigger than any of us and in which we participate all the time.  They are non-negotiables as systems.  We need them to survive and thrive, which makes what we do around culture, money and education a social justice issue.  They ought to be systems that we can rely on, sink into and feel support from. Imagine if these necessary lifelines were themselves sources of hostility and rejection.

I don’t have to imagine.  I am a white man living in a world where, for the most part, culture, financial systems, and education have worked well for me at the same time that they have not worked well for my fellow human beings of Color.  The white supremacy system has benefited me all of my life.

Bob Patrick


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