Intersectionality and White Privilege

While sometimes considered a difficult topic to discuss, the presence of white privilege in modern America and the subsequent inequalities faced by those who do not experience it cannot be ignored. White privilege refers to the societal benefits enjoyed by white people because of their race, which others under the same political, social, or economic circumstances do not experience. In Peggy McIntosh’s piece titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” she highlights privileges experienced by white people in America that we often do not view as “privileges.” While she counts as many as 46 of these, one statement stood out to me above the rest: “I can remain oblivious to the language and cus­toms of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.” This statement reflects a culture of people who are taught that their race is essentially the standard to which others are held to. White privilege is so pervasive, so ingrained into our everyday lives that we have become blind to its presence, however, simply recognizing that these privileges exist is a step in the right direction. Additionally, it is important to remember that while white people in America experience certain privileges that others do not, this does not constitute moral and cultural superiority, in fact, there is much that the white global minority can learn from the survival of oppression endured by so many people of color.

Intersectionality is a term that was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in the late 1980s that refers to the concept of intertwining systems of oppressions such as sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. According to this theory, these institutions of oppression cannot be examined individually; one must take all instances of oppression into account in order to fully understand their effects. Oftentimes, laws and political policies only address single forms of oppression. For example, in the court case DeGraffenreid v. General Motors (1976), five black women attempted to sue General Motors on the basis of sex and race-based discrimination. However, because these two institutions are examined separately under the law, there was no valid legal argument to support their claim. Intersectionality aims to eradicate this issue by emphasizing the multidimensional basis on which oppression can occur.