Back in 2016 I wrote a post called “Why Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is So Important … Especially Today” following a tragic shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in which I made the following statement, which I also referenced in a January 2017 blog:
“I don’t know who first shared with me the idea that we all carry around our individual (metaphorical) backpack. It might have been Holland Bloorview’s Louise Kinross or something I read in her wonderful BLOOM Blog or maybe I picked it up somewhere else. In our backpack we carry with us our experiences, our perspectives, our life choices, our culture and tradition, even whether getting the kids off to school this morning was smooth or WWIII! And as it is an invisible backpack, we can’t ever know what’s in the one that another person carries. But we know they carry it, and it affects who they are, what they say, how they react.”
Just today I ran into what I think the source is for the idea of the “invisible knapsack” – feminist and anti-racism scholar Dr. Peggy McIntosh. In her analysis, included in “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” she introduces the dimension of privilege into discussions of power, gender, race, class and sexuality. In the piece, Dr. McIntosh encourages individuals to reflect on and recognize their own unearned advantages and disadvantages as parts of systems of power: “In unpacking this invisible knapsack of white privilege, I have listed conditions of daily experience that I once took for granted.”
When I used the idea of the “invisible knapsack” I wasn’t using it in Dr. McIntosh’s sense of a way to examine one’s own privilege, but instead in the sense of a means of insight into other people’s lives and experiences.