Social Justice Toolbox

Emptying the White Knapsack

By Jaime Grant, Contributing Editor, Gender and Sexualities

Students of color at colleges across the country have been organizing for years to foreground their experiences of racism – raising a broad range of issues from campus life, to curriculum, to hiring practices and faculty representation of people of color. At Kalamazoo College, a growing number of students of color are raising key questions about a college’s readiness for meaningful engagement with issues of racism, while students at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles are organizing against erasure in the wake of legal decisions against affirmative action.

Student organizing has been accompanied by seemingly endless discussions about white privilege and frequent references to Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 essay, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, a classic consciousness-raising piece about white privilege.

For many white students, this article is an eye-opener because of its analysis that white people benefit from racist structures and the racist distribution of power and resources in US society every day of our lives. Yet this article remains limited because it offers no direction for its readers after coming to this awareness.

I offer this piece as a follow-up to McIntosh.  Once we get past the idea that racism rests with a few prejudiced, hate-filled individuals and accept that all white people uphold a system of racism in our daily choices and actions, there is a lifetime of anti-racist work ahead of us.

I hope this article helps white students – and faculty, staff and administrators – consider our next, pro-active steps in dismantling racism in our communities of higher education.  And beyond – I hope this article becomes part of our toolbox in figuring out how to create the workplaces, institutions, neighborhoods and beloved communities to which we aspire. (more…)

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