Confession: I have been blind to my white privilege

“The engaged voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in dialogue with a world beyond itself.” (p. 11) -bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Today in class we participated in an exercise on race, social class and structural determinants of privilege & discrimination. In the discussion afterward, I made a comment about how race was not as relevant as the intersectional paradigm in understanding social class.   My argument was the reality in America today is that people experience multiple and overlapping marginalizations on individual, social and institutional levels.  An intersectional perspective for analyzing complex social issues demands a broad, community-based approach.  I continued to stress the point that it is simpler to view populations as homogenous—the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill—but this is a simplistic approach that thwarts creativity to solving the problem.

As I spoke, I looked over at Sarah, my friend.  She was shaking her head. She said, “It’s all about race. It’s still about race.” I tilted up my chin, gave her an uncertain smile, “So it’s black versus white? I just can’t believe it’s that simple.” She looked at me square in the eye, “You mean to tell me that slavery wasn’t real?”
“Maybe it is about color,” I responded.  In Peru where I was born, it’s not black versus white. The dichotomy is European descent (white skin) versus Indio (yellow skin). However, the color dynamic is the same. In my family, I was the favorite because I had the lightest skin.  I remember being 4 and experiencing my blonde hair darkening as a fall from grace.
“I have to admit, Sarah, I did have a privileged status growing up because I was pale skinned.” Sarah fixed her gaze on me again, “You don’t have to tell me about skin color and privilege! I’ve been living in this skin my whole life…” She points at her arm and mouths, “Midnight.”

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