The Privilege Walk

Take one step forward. Take one step. The directions are pretty simple, but the impact of this tool can be far reaching. The Privilege Walk is primarily based on an article written by Peggy McIntosh called, "White Privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack". In social justice circles, this article is a classic, a reference point for talking about race, gender, privilege, and socioeconomic realities. Though it seems like a tool which wraps all of this into one activity would be difficult to lead, its actually quite simple.


All participants line up shoulder to shoulder, facing the same direction. Using Peggy McIntosh's list of the ways she experiences privilege, the facilitator will ask participants if they have had the same experience. At the end of each statement, participants are asked to step forward or backward. For example, the facilitator will say, "If you are often asked to speak for all members of your race, take one step back" or "If you do well at work or school but are never told that you are 'a credit to your race', take one step forward." The questions all speak to various aspects of male, white or economic privilege. Many of the questions link these aspects within one question. Its beautiful. The questions can be far extended beyond the 25 listed in Peggy's article. My team almost doubled the number of questions the last time we used this tool. 

Once all the questions have been asked, and everyone has taken plenty of steps forward and/or backward, the room will realize how polarized America remains between genders, races and classes. Its a clear visual and compels conversation! This is where a great facilitator steps in. Having a full discussion about this experience can be incredibly fruitful for sharing stories, understanding the impact of race, gender and class in small ways and large, and unpacking our feelings about it all.


There are a number of variations of this activity as well. To have an extremely focused conversation, the facilitator could carefully choose only gender questions or only racial questions. This can be helpful for participants who are new to the idea of privilege and need a small stepping stone into the conversation. Or the questions could be expanded to include sexuality, ability, religion, etc. The elasticity of the questions greatly expands the reach of this activity. Another variation is to change the formation. I've heard of facilitators who choose to group participants in a circle, so that there is less of a notion of hierarchy at the end. Lastly, there are some facilitators who choose to add money- first person to cross an invisible line receives $20. As you can imagine, this heightens the emotional response of participant answers throughout the activity. 


As a facilitator, I really enjoy using this tool. As a participant, I must have done this Walk more than a dozen times. I'm emotionally effected every time. There is something about this activity and its questions that never gets old for me.

I've used it with a wide range of age groups junior high students through senior citizens. It works with intergenerational groups, and the more diverse the participants (race, gender, socioeconomic, etc) the better the activity and discussion! Word to the wise, you do have to have some diversity to accomplish this activity well. If you have a homogenous group while asking questions about diversity, you will find that their is not much visual impact to draw upon at the conclusion of the activity. The activity also works well with very large groups, as long as you have enough space. I've regularly don't it with 50-60 people and have never felt overwhelmed, perhaps because the activity takes place in silence until the facilitator begins the discussion. 

The discussion can be very emotional for participants. It is not uncommon to hear expressions of pain, anger, guilt and shame. So the facilitator should be very skilled in managing the emotions of a group and allow for sufficient time for all members to have an opportunity to express themselves. It can be an incredible time of honest sharing.

Have you ever participated in the Privilege Walk? What was your experience?