The thing I wish we could all admit
During the snowstorm, I caught up on a lot of reading. Between the presidential race (I totally #feelthebern), Ta-Nehis Coates' 'Between The World And Me', and the deteriorating state of Detroit and Philadelphia public schools via Twitter, I have been on information overload. What struck me the most were two things; a quote and a blog entry.
"This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it."
I cried after reading the first chapter of 'Between The World And Me'.
"We have the schools we have, because people who can afford better get better. And sadly, people who can’t afford better just get less--less experienced teachers, inadequate funding and inferior facilities."
How do I come back from this? I am a white woman, who teaches predominately African American children. I adore my students and in my school they are valued. Yet, in many schools throughout Philadelphia, students of color receive less respect, less resources, less attention, and low performing teachers. Low-income students need extra support and resources to succeed, but in far too many places policies for assigning teachers and allocating resources are perpetuating the problem rather than solving it.
"Black college graduates have weaker starting positions in the labor market, even those with STEM degrees, due to structural racism. Yes, the weak economy has hurt people of all races, however, African-Americans fare worse than any group."
While reading these articles, you want to give up. White privilege exits and it's hard for even some of my family members to understand, acknowledge, and not get defensive about. The old "why can't they bring themselves up from their bootstraps logic" doesn't really have a place anymore. Obviously not all white people are wealthy, and obviously many minorities are rich and powerful. Lots of white people are disadvantaged. But white privilege is something specific and different from the ordinary rising and falling of a free society. It's the fact that simply by virtue of being a white person, of whatever socioeconomic status, you get the benefit of the doubt. That simply isn't the case for those of other races in the United States, no matter how wealthy, smart or hard-working they are. Even when black people work as hard as or harder than their white counterparts, they have this additional barrier to surmount.
This shouldn't be controversial. Agreeing that yes, there is some advantage to being white in the United States, doesn't then mean stripping white people of their jobs and possessions. A request to acknowledge one's privilege is just a reminder to be aware — aware that you might not be able to fully understand someone else's experiences (I don't know what it feels like to be in a school where their is constant verbal and physical fighting between classmates), that the assumptions you were brought up with may be blinding you (not all black kids come from the ghetto), that some people may have to struggle for reasons foreign to you. Remember, pointing out that white privilege exists isn't the same as accusing every white person of being a racist. And acknowledging that you might benefit from such privilege doesn't mean that you're "apologizing for being white".
What next? Like, seriously?
Generally, I expect those with advantages to help out those who are disadvantaged. The leg up provided by white privilege offers a chance to do just that. Understanding that you benefit from white privilege offers the freedom to amplify important issues in ways that those without it cannot. It represents an opportunity to speak out more loudly against injustice, knowing you're better protected from negative outcomes. It's the ability to use the access you're given to create opportunity and space for others. I try everyday for my students for exposure and access. I wonder if it works? I hope...
I wonder if Ta-Nehis would be friends with me...
'Raising The Bar' by Gimlet Media's 'Reply All' podcast
@This American Life