I hate the term “white privilege”. When I hear it I automatically get defensive and feel attacked. My heart and mind swirl with conflicting emotions and I am reminded of everything I think I am not (not smart enough, not educated enough, not cultured enough, etc.). I feel like my lifetime of working to be “color-blind” (which is what we were taught in the 70’s) is now considered all wrong. When I am told I need to acknowledge my white privilege, what I hear are angry voices asking me to apologize for being born white.
This past week I went to a student presentation by a student worker at the college where I work. We came to this institution at the same time. We’ve worked together as staff member/student worker for most of these past four years. She’s always been open, honest, and willing to answer my questions about race, youth, college life, popular opinion, trends, etc. without being offended. She often laughs at me, but does let me be her friend on Snapchat. I can hardly wait for her to graduate next month so I can move her onto my “friend” list.
Her presentation was entitled: The Unwelcome Guest: The Auto-Ethnographic Reflection on a Biracial Student Teacher’s Experiences in Regards to Identity, Assimilation, and Voice”. I won’t go through all of her presentation because I would do it a great disservice (she’s in Texas this week presenting at an AAACS conference). However two things stuck out to me. One was the contents of what she called her “Invisible Knapsack of Student Teaching” – things that help her in working toward her goal of becoming a high school teacher.
- She speaks Academic English. (what many call “white”)
- Comfort level with whiteness. (she grew up in a predominantly white area of Massachusetts)
- Familiarity with holidays. (she knows what holiday each school break is for)
- “Clearly black” (her skin tone is dark so people identify her as “black” and she doesn’t have to answer the question “What are you?”)
This made me really start to think. Then she told us about someone pointing out to her that when she’s waiting in line (like in the dining hall) she tends to move aside whenever a white person comes up. Say what?!
This shocked me. This educated, savvy, attractive, poised young woman who has the world at her feet – feels a compulsion to defer to whites. I know I am over-simplifying her thoughts and feelings. Jocelyn, I apologize for not presenting your work better.
Her presentation impacted me greatly. For the first time I am looking at my “white privilege”without feeling attacked, without feeling guilty. I can acknowledge it for what it is. I have no plans to join any groups examining white privilege or even to dig deep into what it means in my life. But I just might read a few articles (click here for one) and think some new thoughts. Thank you Jocelyn – you made a difference.