Gonzaga hosting famed author who compared white privilege to an 'invisible knapsack' full of provisions

Campus Reform Reporter

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  • Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D., penned influential analysis on "white privilege" in the late 1980s.
  • Says the 'invisible weightless' knapsack includes passports, codebooks, blank checks.
  • The author of the analysis and essay that set forth the concept of "white privilege" is scheduled to speak at Gonzaga University Tuesday evening.

    Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D., associate director of Wellesley Centers for Women, will speak tonight on race, inclusion, privilege, and gender in a lecture titled “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

    “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”   

    The title of the talk comes from her 1989 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” the shortened version of a longer analysis, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.”

    “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks,” according to “Knapsack.”

    “Knapsack” lists twenty-six daily effects of white privilege, including purchasing “posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children's magazines featuring people of my race,” and “chose blemish cover or bandages in flesh color that more or less matches my skin.”

    “My hope is that everyone who attends these events will find meaningful support for living their own lives and for following their own deepest trains of thought,” McIntosh says on the event’s webpage. “The modes of diversity are already in all of us, in our varied experience of everything that has ever deeply touched us. The psyche is plural, and can be our teacher.”

    Her presentation is sponsored by Gonzaga Unity Multicultural Education Center and co-sponsored by nine other organizations.

    McIntosh’s theories are influential in anti-racism activism and other circles. According to the event’s webpage, “Knapsack” and its longer form set forth the concept of “white privilege,” and were “instrumental in putting the dimension of privilege into discussions of gender, race and sexuality.”

    In addition to her teaching career at a number of universities, McIntosh is also a founding member and co-director of Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity Project on Inclusive Curriculum (SEED), co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute in Colorado, and has been consulting editor to Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women.

    Gonzaga spokeswoman Mary Joan Hahn said that university chose to host McIntosh because she is “a highly renowned lecturer and consultant” whose goals match the university’s mission and “commitment to multicultural diversity.”

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter@SteveLarson

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