Equity Journey Month Six - February


Month 6: Privilege: The Invisible Knapsack

"If we can't use the words, we also can't talk about what's really going on and what it has to do with us. And that makes it impossible to see what the problems are or how we might make ourselves part of the solution to them."  - Allan G. Johnson, Privilege, Power, and Difference

Let's open this topic with an activity: On a piece of paper write down what emotions or thoughts arise when you hear the word 'privilege'. After a few minutes of writing, review your list. What themes emerge from your list of words?

The associations you made with the word 'privilege' are dependent on how you are positioned socially.

Read that sentence again, 'how you are positioned socially.'  How did you receive that statement? What does that mean? Do you agree with it or not? Why, or why not?

Privilege is a word that has a lot of energy around it in many ways. It is a loaded word and is part of the journey to becoming culturally competent and an ally for social justice. To genuinely comprehend the significance of this word we need to sit with it, look at it, and dissect it with each other so that we do not get shut down by surface responses. We will use the word 'privilege' to investigate our practices and how it influences our unconscious behaviors.

Due to the sensitivity associated with conversations about privilege, it is essential that facilitators intentionally and quickly establish a culture of respect and openness. Although participants should feel comfortable sharing their perspectives, it is also important to be respectful of individual differences. For example, some participants, although  they are not contributing to discussions, are nonetheless actively engaged and attentive to the content that is being shared by facilitators and colleagues. While facilitators should not necessarily expect to encounter resistance from attendees, they should proactively and preemptively create an environment that is conducive to openness, mutual respect for different perspectives, and learning. For further guidance, reference the supplementary document: Understanding Race and Privilege: Facilitating Challenging Conversations.

Resources for Learning


To build your knowledge of privilege, review the following materials and reflect on the content using the question prompts.

1. If you are unable to complete the Privilege Walk with a group, you may opt to complete the alternative to Privilege Walk or the Privilege Aptitude Test.

a. Privilege Walk - With a group (at least 10 other colleagues) organize a Privilege Walk, Use the Privilege Walk Lesson Plan to facilitate this activity.

Although the directions have everyone starting at the same point (in a straight line), this is not reality. In life, from birth, or even before birth, individuals have different privileges and challenges that lead to already being ahead of, or behind, others due to income status, education opportunities, housing conditions, access to prenatal care, and more.

Alternative to the Privilege Walk: If you are unable to work with a large group, use this video to illustrate the point of differences in privilege.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are a few of the factors that create privileges for some racial groups over others?
  2. What are factors that create challenges for some racial groups?
  3. Us the reflective questions at the conclusion of the Privilege Walk Lesson Plan.

b. Privilege Aptitude Test - Complete the Privilege Aptitude Test with your group, discuss the reflection questions.

2. The Right-Hand of Privilege

Read the article The Right Hand of Privilege

  1. How does the reading add to your understanding of privilege?
  2. What are the advantages of being right-handed? What are the advantages of being left-handed? Share your thoughts on these questions with a partner. What does this conversation say about privilege?


As you read the article Teaching at the Intersections reflect on the following questions:

  1. What is intersectionality?
  2. What is intersecting?
    1. Consider society, people, and sociological understandings
  3. How might these intersections create bias between and among individuals and groups?
  4. How might intersections provide privilege to one group over another?
  5. How do our intersecting identities shape our perspectives and the way we experience the world?
  6. How do power and privilege impact the relationships people have with each other as well as with institutions?

Click here to watch the video referenced in the article.


Fundamentally, everyone benefits from privilege. For some, it is the result of their ethnicity. For others, it is the result of their gender, sexual orientation, disability, or socioeconomic status. Importantly, the intersection of various aspects of privilege (e.g. being white, male, heterosexual, college-educated, and rich versus being black, female, homosexual, and poor) also leads some to experience more privilege and others to experience less. As we serve students and families from various ethnic and income backgrounds, it is important for us to be cognizant of our privileged positions as well as the ways that we can challenge systemic factors that perpetuate privilege to champion the leveling of the playing field for all students, families, and communities.

From all that you know currently, write a definition of privilege.

My definition of privilege........

Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of group membership and not based on what a person or group has done or failed to do (Johnson, 2006). For those who routinely benefit from privilege, the challenge is to not quickly deny its existence. It is important to recognize that privilege is a part of the reality that helps some while it impedes others' experiences. For example, although being female or a person of color does not necessarily directly determine an outcome, these characteristics can easily and quickly make these individuals less likely to be hired, recognized, or rewarded in a variety of situations.

Defining white privilege, Peggy McIntosh's (1988) landmark article regarding white privilege characterized white privilege as "an invisible packaged of unearned assets that [whites] can count on cashing in each day, but about which [they are] 'meant' to remain oblivious" (p. 291). White privilege, therefore, is the counterbalance to racism, a system that disadvantages people of color (Baumgartner & Johnson-Bailey, 2010).

Read the article Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

How does your new learning change your definition of privilege?

McIntosh (1988) listed some common privileges as: being able to choose one's company, shopping without harassment, seeing positive representation in the media, not having your actions represent the whole of your race, and being considered 'civilized'. The characteristics of the privileged, as described by Wildman & Davis (1995), "define the societal norm, often benefitting those in the privileged group and...privileged group members can rely on their privilege and avoid objecting to oppression" (p. 53). As an outcome, whiteness is normalized, becoming the standard to which all non-whites must conform. This "traversing and learning the norms of white culture" results in students of color consigning "their own culture to the margins" (Harris et al., 2015, p. 26).


Complete the chart Privilege and Me. After you have completed the chart:

  1. What do you notice about the privileges you have?
  2. Compare your chart with an individual whose ethnicity is different from your own.
  3. What do you notice about their chart as compared to yours?

This chart identifies your multiple identities. This is not an exhaustive list. Pick three patterns of identity.

Be aware of what comes up as you do this. What does it feel like to do this activity?

This is an activity of all the different ways we show up. These tell us about narratives, stories that we learn unintentionally or intentionally about who is socially valuable and socially powerful.

From these narratives we break into two narratives: Dominant narratives, often positioned as the norm so remain unnamed and unquestioned. This sets an expectation for who belongs and who does not. There starts to be an assumption my identity is the norm and others are outside it. Who gets to tell that story? How would that narrative be different if told from a community other than our own?

Counter-narrative, groups underrepresented, or stereotypically represented or not represented at all. This will give us insights into our systems that are not seen from the dominant perspective.

Using the personal mapping you just completed, start to identify in your places of work what are some of those identity groups that make up your organization?

Who is there?


Wildman & Davis (1995) explain that "the lives we lead affect what we are able to see and hear in the world around us." As such, an important first step to understanding the concept of group-based privilege and how it can shape peoples' perspectives, experiences, and interactions is to examine our own experience. We can be the beneficiary of privilege without recognizing or consciously perpetuating it. Learning to see one's own privilege as well as that of groups and systems can create an important pathway to self-discovery. Some questions to consider are listed below:

  1. When was the last time you had to think about your ethnicity, race, gender, ability level, religion, and/or sexual orientation? What provoked you to think about it or acknowledge it?
  2. When watching TV or a movie, how likely are you to watch shows whose characters reflect your ethnicity, race, gender, ability level, religion, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation?
  3. When using social media, how diverse is your feed? How diverse are your friends and followers? How diverse are those that you follow?
  4. How do you respond when others make negative statements towards individuals of a different ethnicity, race, gender, ability level, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity than yourself?
  5. How often do you go to social settings where most of the individuals are of a different ethnicity, race, gender, ability level, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity than yourself?
  6. How diverse is the community in which you live?
  7. How do you feel when you are in a community that is different from your neighborhood?
  8. How would you make your neighborhood more inclusive and sensitive?
  9. If you recognized your privilege, what did you do with this realization?


Review the chart Privilege in the Classroom and discuss with your group the following:

  • What is your initial reaction?
  • What on this chart stood out for you?
  • What would you add to this chart?

In the section on Addressing Privilege in Your Classroom, have each member of your team review at least one of the resources (links) listed. Create a list of strategies you could use to address privilege in your classroom. Select at least one that you will commit to your team you will use. Rejoin your group two weeks after this session and share what has worked and what adjustments did you need to make to achieve with fidelity, in implementing the strategies.


Now that you have learned about privilege, think about how your race impacts your interactions with others in your school and neighborhood. Are there areas in which you are privileged? Are there areas in which you are not experiencing privilege?

"We have a lot to learn about each other's (choose one: race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability status, or SES). Share at least one positive thing or misconception about what your (choose one: race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability status, or SES) means to you and that you want others to know."


Some people "get" the idea of systemic privilege and ask, "But what can I do?"

Perhaps we can use unearned advantage to weaken systems of privilege. Privilege is a bank account that you did not ask for, but that you can choose to spend. People with privilege have far more power than we have been taught to realize under the myth of meritocracy.

Brainstorm how to use unearned assets to share power: these may include time, money, leisure, connections, spaces, travel, and may connect with changes in other behaviors as well, such as paying attention, making associations, intervening, speaking up, asserting and deferring, being alert, taking initiative, doing ally work, and recognizing and acting against both the external and internalized forms of oppression and privilege.

Starting today, how can you raise awareness about privilege with your friends and/or family?