I am White. Because of this, I have an extraordinary amount of privilege in the United States of America. It has taken me a long time to understand what this means.
I was raised with the ideology to “not see color.” I was raised to tolerate others who were different from me. Yet, I still spent the vast majority of my time with other White people. I lived in a White neighborhood. My friends were White. We knew non-White people but did not spend much time with them. Usually, when we were spending time with non-White people it was out of necessity and not always by choice. I learned the covert ways people perpetuate prejudicial thoughts through language and microaggressions. I contributed to this. Sometimes not aware. Sometimes aware. I was in an insulated community. My thoughts and words were never challenged.
Through my time in higher education, I have participated in numerous training sessions on diversity with almost all of them focusing on the idea of race. At first, I was angry because I felt attacked during many of these sessions. I felt I was being called racist simply because I was White. I can remember saying to a staff member, “Just because I am White does not mean that I am racist. Why do others think that I am?”
A particular fishbowl activity while I was a resident assistant and the subsequent conversations with staff members after the session helped me to really understand what it meant to be White. More importantly, what it means to be White in America. I never knew that Whiteness is a racial identity. That being White has an impact on how people perceive me, how I interact with others, and that I have benefitted tremendously throughout my life because of it.
Once I was exposed to these concepts, I had to do some self-discovery. I was provided Helm’s White Racial Identity Development Model and things started to make more sense. I needed to suspend my previous thoughts and notions about race. I was forced to look at systemic issues that were beyond my control but I still contributed to through complicity. The most difficult thing to understand is how White privilege has provided me benefits, even if I did not ask for them. I had to critically analyze my experiences and opportunities to have a better understanding of what this meant.
This rocked me quite a bit. It has taken some time to understand. I’ve made mistakes and missteps along the way. I know that I will continue to make mistakes and missteps as I learn more. I’ve had to confront friends and family about their words and thoughts. Over time and through my experiences, I realized that “not seeing color” ignores the realities of other people and how racial identity has a societal impact regardless whether I choose to “see color” or not. More importantly, I’ve had to confront myself and my own biases. I continue to do this on a regular basis. I will need to continue doing this.
I have realized I needed to step out of my “White World” and attempt to look at things through another lens, a non-White perspective. I have been fortunate to participate in equity, diversity, and inclusion training and conference sessions to further explore this. I have made more effort to read books by non-White authors. I watch more shows and movies developed by non-White producers with non-White directors and actors and written by non-White people. I am far more critical of the stories, TV shows, and movies I digest. I know that this is minor, but it has helped in trying to better understand the experiences of non-White people in the US. I will never fully be able to experience or understand, but it is important to me to try.
Luckily, I had mentors and guides to push me along this journey. They challenged me to think differently. They provided me with the support I needed when I experienced White guilt. They called me out on my shit. They helped me open my eyes to what I was blind to. Now, I try to pay it forward with the students I work with.