Monday, November 17, 2014

Privilege

Growing up I never thought of myself as white. I don't know why but I never quite fit in with the white people in my community. Am I probably the palest person in my world? Yup. Could anyone really get any whiter (physically) than me? Probably not. But, as a child of Greek immigrants and a first generation American, I never found it easy to associate with the "white" kids in my neighborhood. The white kids were the kids who didn't speak another language; the kids whose parents did not speak English with an accent; the kids who didn't have to go to parochial school to learn about a "foreign" language and culture; and the kids who ate things like hamburgers and hot dogs while we had spanakopita and lamb. The white kids were just that... white. And even though I was paler than most of them, the connections with the white kids were few and far between. 

Instead, when I was younger it was easier for me to establish connections with the kids who weren't white. My best friend growing up was Dominican. The kids I played baseball with on most afternoons were Colombian. The kids who seemed to understand my world were other immigrant children. This trend continued as I entered high school. I went to Jamaica High School in Queens and the kids I bonded with there were from the Caribbean, Pakistan and Guyana just to name a few. The connections with white kids still didn't happen easily and consistently. And when people asked me what I was, I always said Greek... I never saw myself as white or caucasian. 

But, the truth is, I am white and my whiteness has afforded me certain privileges that many of the people around me growing up could not easily access. Did I realize I had privilege growing up? No. Did I realize when I went to the local market with my friends after school no one ever watched me while we all walked around? No. Did I ever realize that when I sat in a room with the pool of newly hired teachers in NYC in 1997 almost all of them were white? No. I never realized the privilege my skin color afforded me each and every day when I left my home. 

My consciousness of this privilege really didn't surface until I started my doctorate about three years ago. That's right... I spent the first 37 years of my life completely oblivious to the white privilege that likely impacted the trajectory of my whole professionally journey. I spent 37 years not really understanding all the people who are marginalized each and every day in our world who will likely never have access to these same privileges. I spent 37 years completely oblivious to the fact that white privilege meant I never had to worry about things like the achievement and opportunity gaps. Yes, even though I spent most of life not identifying with the white people in my world the truth is that I am white and because of that I am viewed a certain way by those around me.

So, why am I writing about my white privilege? Because I needed to reflect on my journey; because I needed to acknowledge that white privilege does exist and it impacts things that happen in my world each and every day; because I needed to think about the perceptions I assign to people; and because I am hoping that eventually I can better engage in the difficult conversations I think are needed for our country to grow and evolve.        

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I, too, have examined the benefits I have subconsciously received from white privilege through my doctoral journey. This is an important topic we need to address in education today, especially knowing that racism is still alive and functioning all over our country.

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