In the entitled “white privilege: Unpacking the invisible Knapsack”, Maclntosh identifies the invisible advantages that the social system confers to the white population and other groups in the hierarchies. She likens this form of inequality in privileges to the kind of discrimination and inequality that exist between the male and female gender. According to Maclntosh, discrimination against women by men is a result of both individual denial by men to recognize the fact they are over privileged and the cultural setting in which the society teaches men not to recognize such inequalities and discrimination.
Maclntosh points out that through childhood cultural values and teachings instilled in men concerning women’s status contributes towards their unconscious discrimination against women. This makes it difficult for men to acknowledge their many privileges to the detriment of women. They will not have any thoughts to support ideas that will reduce their privileges to women’s advantage. Instead, they will fight to keep the status quo and sustain the current situation that will add to their privileges.
Likewise, the social hierarchies in existence work in the same way conferring more privileges to particular groups of people while others suffer the consequence. She finally makes an important observation that unless people give special attention to the invisible inequalities presented by social systems, individual efforts to fight racism and other forms of oppression will not succeed.
The social hierarchies in existence create a situation in which one group suffers while the other gains from their suffering. Maclntosh in page 3 of her article identifies a pattern in the social organization of these hierarchies. She sees a pattern of assumptions that cultural systems pass down to individuals that makes them equally unaware or oblivious of the advantages they poses from the hierarchies to the disadvantage of others. Failure to recognize such privileges is what creates the difference among various groups.
In other words, it will cause a difference in privileges between men and women, white and colored individuals as well as the rich and the poor. In addition, in page 5 Maclntosh notes that the hierarchies socially structure is divided into two categories. The first category is the active form visible through individual acts such as racial abuses. The second category is the inactive form that is invisible and it is that which the society teaches individuals not recognize.
As an example of how this differences result in discrimination, Maclntosh uses the racial rift in terms of privileges that exist between white people and colored individuals. Just like men, white people unconsciously discriminate against the colored races due to the unawareness of invisible advantages that culture confers upon them by virtue of being white. While talking of earned and unearned power in page 4 of the article, Maclntosh identifies how it creates discrimination. The privilege that the social system gives an individual over the other due to racial color, abilities, sex, or religion promotes unfairness and leads to discrimination.
The opportunities that a white individual will get due to his color may be misconstrued to be power while in the real sense it is the system at work in promoting unfairness and discrimination. Such unmerited/unearned powers that exist in the social setting are what cause discrimination among the group members in the society. Identification of such powers and elimination is necessary for our cultural systems to be free of discrimination. In addition, just as men would fight to protect the many privileges they have, so do the white people in the course of their lives. They will struggle to maintain the status quo if not increasing it therefore creating more discrimination.
Social categories and such as class, gender, race, and sexual orientation are examples of hierarchies in which the social system works to empower some groups in the society while the others suffer. The act of fighting to protect a group’s assumed privileges conferred to them by culture creates unbalanced power within the groups. With unbalanced power, discrimination is most likely to occur among the members. The result is racism, sexism, classism, and women oppression. All these are manifestations of unearned power and systematic efforts by individuals to protect what they term as ‘rightfully theirs’.
In conclusion, I would say that the invisible systematic working of the social categories in which I am a member, have contributed toward me discriminating against other social groups. I now realize that my cultural upbringing as man has had a hand in my opposition against some rights that women fight to achieve. I also realize that due to the systematic working of such social categories, the belief that only individual acts contribute to discrimination has negatively affected me into partaking in oblivious discrimination. I learn that it requires both individual cultural systems redesigning in order to root out power imbalance that result to discrimination.
Maclntosh, Peggy. White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Independent School;
Winter90, Vol. 49 Issue 2, p31, 5p