Category Archives: McIntosh, Peggy

Colonialism / Postcolonialism: McIntosh’s Argument Against Kindness to end Racism

What is problematic about the belief that “racism could end if white individuals changed their attitude?” Why is emphasizing individual kindness among interracial interaction not valid as the primary strategy for ending pervasive racism in society according to McIntosh?


As we learned in the Marxism unit we have systems in place that privileges white skin whether or not those same people are aware of the system existing or not, or whether they approve of the system or not. She goes on to say that only changing our attitudes is not enough, we must “acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions,” of the system and construct a new base.

McIntosh believes individual kindness is not enough to change the system since the system is so entrenched that “freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people,” and this system must be fundamentally changed to really allow there to be true equality. But how do we change the system? Being aware of our attitudes and the systems in place that privilege white skin over other skin is vital, yet what is McIntosh proposing we do? Do we “seize the means of production,” as Marx said? Is just being aware of privilege enough to end privilege?

I believe that kindness is, in fact, the only real strategy. Kindness, however, is not the act of being gracious (which implies a sort of power structure consisting of a dominant party conferring their graciousness towards a disadvantaged party), it involves empathy, humility, and the putting aside our own ego. It involves seeing the worth in not just ourselves but also in another individual and recognizing that someone else might be the better person for a job, or an apartment rental, or that their argument is better than our own. A society consisting of truly kind people is a society in which there is no inequality, in which no structures are built in the first place to oppress others or disadvantage others. In such a society everyone’s worth is valued to its earned degree and the contents of everyone’s knapsack are valued.

McIntosh says, “it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage to weaken hidden systems of advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base”. To do this we have to put aside our own egos, our own pride, and have empathy for all the people in our lives.

In Dostoevsky’s novel, “The Brothers Karamazov” one of the main characters, a monk, comes upon a group of children beating up another child. When the monk intervenes to help the bullied child, that child bites the monk’s finger and runs away. The monk was surprised by the child’s reaction to his kindness, yet what he did not understand was why the child was being bullied. The child was being bullied because his father had been seen drunk in town and had made a fool of himself and his very poor family. The boy was ashamed to have this attention heaped upon the fact that he was already poor and looked down upon and he saw that having this “kindly” monk (a person of privilege) step in to “help” in would only make his social situation even worse. The monk realized that we can’t help everyone, but what we can do is be aware of their situation (as well as our own) and be empathetic to their situation (as well as our own), to value them as human beings and not as someone who is just labeled as being poor or of a different race or gender.  True kindness is valuing each person as a vital human being.