How much white privilege do you have? A checklist from 1988 is still relevant today

Laws may have changed, but systemic racism still exists.
Laws may have changed, but systemic racism still exists.
Image: Library of Congress/Public Domain
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Religion, race, gender, and sexuality are some of the many variables that can give one person an advantage over another. Sometimes that means landing a good job because you’re a white man, sometimes that means being pulled over and perhaps shot by a police officer because you’re a black man.

Peggy McIntosh, now 81 years old, was teaching a seminar at Wellesley College in the late 1980s when she first cataloged some of the ways her skin color gave her an unearned advantage. “I wrote only from my own experience,” she said in an interview. Her list of 46 privileges was first published in 1988. Since then it has been a popular list for those looking to examine their own privileges.

White privilege “takes different forms in different lives,” so her list isn’t intended to apply to all white people, and McIntosh’s autobiographical framing “leaves everyone to make their own lists” of the ways they have benefitted from their skin color. By listing their own privileges, McIntosh hopes people will be able to see more clearly the systemic advantages that lift some up and push others down.

We’ve selected 10 from McIntosh’s original list of 46 privileges:

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, fairly well assured that I will not be followed or harassed by store detectives.

12. I can go into a book shop and count on the writing of my race being represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.

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

24. I can be reasonably sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

36. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

The rest of McIntosh’s original list can be found here. She continues to work on equality and diversity issues in education as the founder of Wellesley’s National SEED Project.