The speaker at the University of Georgia Institute for Women's Studies lecture on April 9 wanted her audience to understand the difference between white privilege and white supremacy.
“I think the two are related, but are not the same, and I am scared of moving on to being oblivious about privilege,” said Dr. Peggy McIntosh, an anti-racism activist, scholar and feminist.
McIntosh said society has moved away from seeing white privilege as an issue, and instead focuses on white supremacy, despite some citizens being unaware of the differences between the two.
“White privilege is like a bank account given to me when I was born,” McIntosh said. “I didn't ask for it and I didn't earn it, but I can choose to spend it down to weaken the systems that gave it to me, and because it's white privilege, it'll always refill and I'll never go bankrupt.”
Her lecture, titled “Pondering White Privilege (mostly unconscious) and White Supremacy (mostly intentional): The importance of seeing that they are not the same in their origins or outcomes," attracted a room full of students and professors in the Zell B. Miller Learning Center.
McIntosh used a story to explain how white privilege is often only “semi-conscious,” yet can have notable effects on people of color. She described a school teacher that noticed how her natural thoughts were leading her to pinpoint black students in a negative way.
“It was her unconscious mind that said, ‘Whites were safe children, and blacks could grow up to be danger,’ and she caught herself thinking this over and over,” McIntosh said. “She was creating surveillance over the black children. Once she caught herself, she knew she was doing white control.”
McIntosh used this anecdote as a way of explaining the realities of “white control” that often lead to oblivious choices being made that favors white people more than black people.
“It’s still a very free choice to use the power to weaken the systems that gave it to you,” McIntosh said. “Realizing your privilege is a moment of disintegration because you realize you are not as good as you think you are, and you have a moment of white control where you decide to use your unearned power for good.”
Ali Tritschler, a sophomore communications major from Southport, Connecticut, attended the event because of her involvement in her women's studies class.
“Peggy McIntosh’s work has been a backbone for my class this semester and was a backbone for a class I took in high school,” Tritschler said. “It’s not everyday that you hear about the problems of white supremacy and white control from a white person, so I think she brings a unique perspective to the table.”
McIntosh was first recognized as a feminist and anti-slavery activist in 1988 when she wrote an article detailing 46 separate examples of white privilege and male privilege in the workplace.
The next year in 1989, she wrote an article titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," which is still being used in classrooms.
Today, she works as a senior associate for the National Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity project, an organization that encourages teachers to present seminars regarding their experiences in an effort to facilitate more equal and diverse practices.
McIntosh’s perspective and work has brought the ideas of white privilege and white supremacy to the forefront, even years after her work was published, Tritschler said.
“I think it’s interesting she wrote something in 1989 that still applies in 2018,” Tritschler said.