Monday, May 12, 2014

My experience with white privilege

For the past twelve weeks, I have been a student in a job-training program for women.  Graduation day is looming, and I'm going to miss it.
However, I think that I come off as a bit of a shill.  White, Jewish, under 40, native-born, and college-educated, I have to admit that I'm one of the few in the class to hit all those markers.  However, this doesn't bother me in the slightest.  When I was a kid, I went to school in Baldwin Hills.  For those readers unfamiliar with Los Angeles, Baldwin Hills is an upper-middle-class neighborhood in LA.  An upper-middle-class black neighborhood.  I was the poor white kid from the broken home with the crazy, alcoholic father, and most of my classmates were black kids with intact families whose parents were professionals and drove BMWs.  (It was the 80s--decade  of greed and status symbols.)  It was like living in the movie White Man's Burden.  Naturally, given the demographic of the school, we learned a lot more than the usual Martin Luther King and George Washington Carver and Civil Rights Movement during Black History Month.  In fact, it took me years to realize that suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony was Caucasian.
Fast forward to today.  I consider myself fairly colorblind, with the upbringing I had.  However, there were a couple of instances where I'm not so sure.
First of all, we had to create PowerPoint presentations for businesses we might like to start.  When I put in pictures, I included a rather adorable one of Thing 1 (since my business was a forest kindergarten for city kids, it was relevant).  My classmate saw the presentation, and asked me if the school was only for white people.  I quickly added another picture, this one featuring two black kids.  It hadn't even occurred to me that my classmates might not see themselves or their children in my presentation.
The other was a little more amusing.  We were planning an end-of-course potluck party, and being something of a queen of the deep-fry, I offer up some of my homemade fried chicken.  It's one of my comfort foods, and I've been told that it's quite good by people who are not related to me.  One of my classmates told me, "Now, you know we're all black women, and we'll know good fried chicken.  It had better be good."  I looked around at my cohort.  (We were divided into three cohorts for this program)  These were women I had been in class with for twelve weeks, and the cohort had only a little bit of change.  I realized, after going to class with this group for three months, that I was the only white person in the room!  I hadn't really thought about it.  To me, they were just my classmates, and race had never really been a factor.  But that is also a form of privilege in itself.  To go through life not having to think about race.

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