Campus News

Feminist scholar shares her thoughts on privilege

Groundbreaking feminist and anti-racist scholar Peggy McIntosh spoke about inequality and privilege to a packed house at the inaugural Franklin Diversity Lecture March 19 in the Chapel.

A professor at Wellesley College and a nationally recognized academic, McIntosh authored the 1988 essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” a flagship paper for anti-racist and feminist scholarship.

At the lecture, McIntosh spoke candidly about the realizations that led her to write the essay.

As a white woman, McIntosh said she believed that African Americans were disadvantaged, but never considered herself “privileged” until she read two essays by black women, both of which noted in passing that white women were oppressive.

“I thought to myself, ‘We’re not oppressive. We’re so nice,’ ” McIntosh said. “I didn’t think you could be oppressive and nice at the same time. . . I didn’t see the privilege because I was taught not to see it.”

This led her to list more than 40 unearned advantages she reaps daily due to her race. They include: “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented,” and “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”

McIntosh further expanded the idea, touching on the privileges of U.S. citizenship, heterosexuality and mobility. But just as we all have privilege due to our birth, she said, we also are disadvantaged because of it.

“The key thing is that nobody got here free of pain or grief. We’ve all got our sorrows within the systems we were born into. . . And in all cases, these have nothing to do with what we’ve wanted or worked for, earned or deserved. It has everything to do with how you were born, the circumstances you didn’t choose,” she said.

As associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and co-founder of the SEED (Seeking Education Equity and Diversity) Project, which helps teachers create their own year-long, school-based seminars on making school climates and teaching methods more sensitive to multi-cultural issues, McIntosh has dedicated much of her life to eradicating racism and misogyny through education.

Such actions made her the ideal speaker for the first Franklin Diversity Lecture, which is set to become an annual event, according to Garnett Stokes, dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

“The Franklin College is making a significant effort to initiate and cultivate a campus conversation about issues surrounding diversity and inclusion,” Stokes said. “The idea of the Franklin Diversity Lecture was suggested by senior adviser, Dr. Kecia Thomas, as one mechanism by which we could hear annually from a distinguished speaker to address broad cutting-edge issues and thereby provide an avenue for conversation, reflection, and action to improve the culture of inclusiveness throughout the college at all levels.”