Growing up I always knew I was privileged. I had two parents with stable, high-income jobs and we lived in a big 3 story house in the affluent Rochester suburb of Pittsford. We had 2 cars, a dog, and took lots of vacations to incredible places across the US and the world. Yet, I could never really put a finger on just what led to that privilege. I never really took the time to think about the other people around me. Were they as privileged as me? Did they have the same opportunities that I had?
The vast majority of students in my school and people in my town were, and still are, white. Yet, even with the modest Asian population they did not seem terribly different from us. I got to know and befriend several kids whose parents were from China, Japan or India and it seemed, from my perspective, that they had all the opportunities that I did.
There was one racial group, however, that I really did not know much about and did not see on a daily basis. I’m talking, of course, about black people. The I vs. Them mentality that is so pervasive in perpetuating racism and discrimination was, I think, bubbling at the surface of my high school, Pittsford-Mendon. You see, of the very few black kids that attended my school, most were bused in from the inner city, a roughly 45 minute drive. Looking back on it now I can kind of see how there was a division between those students and the rest of us (the rich, white privileged). I wish that I had had the forethought and the attentiveness to approach those kids and get to know them better. I wish I had taken the time to learn about their lives, their experiences, and how those experiences had shaped their world view. Most of all, I wish I had taken the time to make them feel more welcome in an environment in which they must have felt incredibly foreign, even unwelcome.
We cannot fully understand the racism or white privilege around us without talking to those who are being discriminated against. It is the only way to really understand the issues involved, and figure out a plan to combat those problems.