Long before there was Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang and his boneheaded essay in Time, there was scholar Peggy McIntosh. Her 1988 essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," remains perhaps the most seminal, accessible entry point for Caucasians into understanding modern racism.
The New Yorker recently interviewed McIntosh, now a 79-year-old professor at Wellesley, but Colorlines.com pulls out some key passages:
How McIntosh came to write so authoritatively in the late ’80s about privilege:
…About six years earlier, black women in the Boston area had written essays to the effect that white women were oppressive to work with. I remember back to what it had been like to read those essays. My first response was to say, “I don’t see how they can say that about us—I think we’re nice!” And my second response was deeply racist, but this is where I was in 1980. I thought, I especially think we’re nice if we work with them.
On reaction, over the years, to speaking up about privilege:
Well, at first, the most common responses were from white people. Their most common response was “I never thought about this before.” After a couple of years, that was accompanied by “You changed my life.” From people of color, from the beginning, it was “You showed me I’m not crazy.” And if they said more than that it was along the lines of “I knew there was something out there working against me.”
On the value of honoring and telling individual stories:
I think one’s own individual experience is sacred. Testifying to it is very important—but so is seeing that it is set within a framework outside of one’s personal experience that is much bigger, and has repetitive statistical patterns in it.