History of White Privilege in America

Key Terms:

  • Invisible Backpack
  • Separate but Equal
  • Jim Crow South

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack

This work by Peggy McIntosh discusses theory of white privilege through the metaphor of the invisible backpack that whites “wear”. The items they carry in this backpack are the privileges that white people are given that they are unaware they possess.

McIntosh, Peggy. 1989. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack”.


Privilege Post Civil Rights

This thesis of the history and evolution of the concept of white privilege argues for how the birth of white privilege lies in the belief of discrimination being deemed illegal. This work proposes that the abolishment of institutional discrimination via the Civil Rights Act of 1964, created a place for the attitudes associated with white privilege.  

Bennett, Jacob. 2012. “White Privilege: A History of the Concept.” Thesis, Department of History, Georgia State University, Atlanta.

Rewriting the Civil War

This video discusses how the Daughters of the Confederacy used their influence to rewrite the history of the Civil War South and push down the narrative of the lost cause. The Daughters lobbied for laws and elected officials that would push their version of the confederacy, changing the way that history was taught to many people afterwards. This video is an example of how many people elected to ignore the atrocities of slavery and racism in the Jim Crow South.

Historical Cases:

Separate Is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education

This website describes the segregation of races in the Jim Crow south and how races were supposed to “separate but equal” but in fact this was an excuse for segregation and the reality was severe inequality between blacks and whites. White people at the time may have thought that “separate but equal” was a reality but that was because their white privilege shielded them from the realities of being African American in the Jim Crow South

National Museum of American History. “Separate Is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education”

Plessy v. Ferguson

This article explains the story of Plessy vs. Ferguson which was a Supreme Court case having to do with the 13th and 14th amendments. This case argued that segregation was discrimination based on race, however  the court ruled that segregation was okay as long as it was equal. This set a precedent for, “separate but equal” rulings arcoss many facets of life in the United States and was what helped legally maintain a lot of Jim Crow segregation.

Foner, Eric & Garraty, John. 1991. “Plessy v. Ferguson”