As chance would have it, I was among the first generation of people to do the Privilege Walk, when the exercise was just five years old, still confined to a small circle of Bay Area educators, and was known only as the Power Shuffle. In the decades since, the exercise and its ideology have spread far and wide.
Typically, the Walk’s origin is ascribed to Peggy McIntosh sometime in the 1990s. McIntosh, a feminist, anti-racism trainer, and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, is famous for describing “white privilege” as an “invisible knapsack.” However, as McIntosh told me in an email: “I did not invent the exercises you refer to and in fact I urge people not to undertake such exercises. They are too simple for complex experiences relating to power and privilege. I don’t know where they originated. They seem to answer a craving for instant One-size-fits-all awakenings. I think they are counterproductive.”4
The real story of the Walk’s origin turned out to be weirder than I had expected. It involves one of the most famous philosophers of the last century—Herbert Marcuse; a Scientology-linked cult with a twisted fixation on the Left; and a classic tale of intergenerational conflict pitting a young woman of the New Left against her larger-than-life father, a communist-adjacent hero of the struggle against fascism who then became a jet-setting steel tycoon.
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