While I was reading this week’s articles a quote stood out to me and it changed the way I was going to write this blog. So I am going to share it with you all. “ Differences in Privilege are not made less by engaging in service” (Hui). When I first read this quote I thought to myself that it make sense. However when I got to a higher level of thinking I realized service is not the only thing that goes into changing privilege. In my post last week I discussed how what I expect out of this trip and how I want to partake in learning- service. I cannot be a true steward of this until I discus the privileges I have been given and how that will affect my experiences on this trip.
I am a white female who is majoring in Communication Studies at James Madison University. I grew up in a town that lacked diversity. College was the first time I was exposed to true diversity. When I am in the classroom, teachers have never asked me to speak on behalf of my race. But I have seen it happen. I have white privilege. I have the invisible knapsack of maps, checks and tools to get me where I am today. I have never been made aware that I have this invisible knapsack until this year. If you asked me in high school if I had white privilege I would have denied this power and stated everyone is equal. I feel as thought this is the problem.
As students we learn about other races as history, “Attention students its black history month”, we have all heard this over the loud speakers of our high school. This affects the way we view each other. We see the identity of other races as a history and not as a culture. We end up oppressing other cultures. We ask questions like “ why do we even have a black history month?” and “ why is there not a white history month isn’t that reverse racism? “ I once watched a documentary that hit the nail on the head in answering these questions. In the documentary, White Like Me, Tim Wise talks about what it is like to grow up privileged and how he used his power to change the lives of others. He talks about how students have this idea of reverse racism. However that could never exist because we have never been oppressed as people of privilege. We can never speak the truth of someone of color because we will never understand the position they are in.
While I was watching that documentary and reading the articles, I started to think critically about situations I have been in and the conversations I have had with people about white privilege. The more people I talk to about this the more I realize white people deny that they have this invisible privilege or they are unaware of it entirely. The way to change this is to have more open dialogue about white privilege, to admit that that white privilege exists.
During the Alternative Spring Break Retreat for Trip Leaders we completed a privilege walk in which we were read statements that applied to people of privilege and people who lacked privilege. These statements never mentioned color, race, gender, or sexuality. Everyone started on the same spot on the line and based on the statements you moved forward or backward. An example of a statement that was read to move forward was “ if you have had over 50 books in your house growing up”. An example of a statement that was read to move backward was “ if you have ever been scared to walk to your car alone at night”.
I had no expectations before the privilege walk because I was unaware of my privilege. Once the privilege walk was completed I was at the far end of the line, leading towards most privileged. I was shocked. Where I come from I never thought of myself as privileged. Until that moment I thought the privileged people had a Mercedes -Benz and a large house. Once I found out how privileged I was and how unprivileged some of the other students I go to school with were, some of my friends even, extreme guilt over took me. I think this is also part of the problem. Once people recognize white privilege, they feel guilty and feel it is easier to ignore that white privilege exists. If we can over come the initial guilt we can move on to make a change and empower others.
The biggest thing I took away from the reading is not to be colorblind but to be color brave. Start recognizing people for their color and their privilege.
– Sam Shepherd