My Invisible Knapsack

Our current times have gotten me questioning my white privilege.

I remember reading Peggy McIntosh in graduate school. Her work introduced me to the idea of an Invisible Knapsack. She explains, “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.” Along with race, she investigates gender in her work, too. However, I will focus my thoughts in this post primarily on race.

Last week I got a new passport.

All I had to do was send my current passport, a certified marriage certificate documenting my name change, and a personal check for the required fee. The privilege involved in that exchange is not lost on me. I have had the institutional support to travel since I got my first passport at the age of 16. I have the unquestioned right to marry and change my name. I can afford to pay the requisite money to get a new passport. I have the means to travel. These are all elements of privilege writ large.

As black and brown asylum seekers and immigrants are forced from our country, as black and brown families continue to be separated at our borders, as black and brown people face harassment and violence, as our education system desperately struggles to serve allchildren, I pause to reflect on my Invisible Knapsack.

I was born in Louisville, kentucky into an environment of education, faith, and safety.

I am the daughter of third generation European immigrants. Most of the men in my family worked on the railroad that ran from Louisville to Nashville. I went to integrated public schools through high school. I attended an almost entirely white Catholic high school. I grew up in an almost entirely white liberal Christian church. My understanding of difference was profoundly impacted by my Turner Syndrome diagnosis at the age of 15. I got to chose to keep that invisible. I traveled to Santander, Spain between my Sophomore and Junior year of high school. International travel exploded my brain a bit. I went to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Just to be there was a result of privilege. I do not take that lightly.

After college, I served in the AmeriCorps in Indianapolis.

My service experience taught me race matters. We are all truly interdependent. That has been my truth since that time. Simple as that. I briefly taught drama at an integrated high school in Indianapolis. I pursued doctoral studies at the University of Texas, Austin where I looked at the ways in which high school drama teachers create powerful encounters with the arts. After graduate school, I moved to Washington DC and worked on issues related to the education of people with disabilities. From there, I conducted applied research at the University of Cincinnati looking at education, public health, and workforce development. Now, I live in Miami and write grants for non-profits.

I have carried my Invisible Knapsack of white privilege with me all along the way.

I call myself out when I take my white privilege for granted. That is hard. Invisibility sometimes means privilege is hidden under the guises of fear and guilt. I try to call out injustice and cruelty when I see it. I believe that our small decisions toward peace and justice do make a difference. Big political decisions like staying informed and voting matter, too. Toward that end, diversity of people running for office and holding office is critical. That being said, we can not just sit back and watch others do important big work and be asleep in our day-to-day lives.

We must start somewhere.

In this season of backpacks and new school years, of the bounty of the coming Fall, and all that is around and within you, take a second. Think about who you are. Down deep. Outside of the noise. Looking in the mirror. Inside your heart. Where are you from? Where are your people from? What experiences have shaped you? If you where unpacking your knapsack, what would it contain?

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