I grew up in a small town in Western Massachusetts where the majority of the population was white. Throughout my childhood I had very few interactions with people of other races. From the time I was five years old until the time I was fourteen years old I played soccer, took dance classes, went to CCD, and went to public school. All of my soccer teammates were white; all of the girls in my dance classes were white; all of the kids in my CCD classes were white, and all of the kids I went to school with were white. Because of this, I grew up with a limited knowledge of race and how it affects individuals. I was unaware of the existence of racial inequality, unaware of the effect that race had on me, and essentially unaware of my white privilege.
In 2011, I began high school at a small boarding school in Massachusetts. Though my boarding school had much more racial diversity than the town I grew up in, students of color only constituted 18% of the student body meaning that my social life was still dominated by whites. Regardless, for the first time in my life I was interacting with students of color on a daily basis in classes, on sports teams, and in the dorm. Individuality was strongly valued at my school, and students were encouraged and welcomed to express themselves free of judgment. Diversity was praised in a general sense, and on one academic day each year classes were cancelled and a conference was held celebrating the diversity on our campus. In our small community everyone accepted for their differences, and everyone was seen as equal.
Throughout my time at boarding school, I was educated on sexual orientation and gender identity numerous times. During my sophomore year, my school even published a “You Can Play” video stating that athletes and coaches were welcomed and respected regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I developed a deeper understanding of different sexual orientations and gender identities while at boarding school because these topics were so frequently and openly discussed. While there was a clear emphasis on ensuring equality for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities, there was no emphasis on equality for students of different racial backgrounds. Race was not openly discussed at my boarding school and because of this, I developed a false perception of race. I assumed that since racial inequality was not discussed it didn’t exist. I was unaware of how race affected people and also unaware of how race affected me.
My boarding school fostered a community in which all individuals were seen as equals. Since there was an emphasis on creating equality for individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities, I was able to understand that outside of my boarding school community certain sexual orientations and gender identities were not always perceived equally; and since there was no discussion of racially inequality and no emphasis put on creating equality for individuals of all racial backgrounds, I assumed that all races were perceived equally not only inside my small community but outside as well.
September 2015- Present
In September of 2015 I came to Trinity College thinking I had a good understanding of race, but I soon realized that I had much to learn. I was enrolled in the Color and Money first year seminar where I began reading about and discussing race on a regular basis. At first, I struggled to grasp the concept the racial inequality because I had spent so much of life under the misconception that racial inequality did not exist. In the first few weeks of the semester, I learned about white privilege, a term that refers to the advantages that white people receive because of their race. I was completely in denial about the existence of white privilege, and even more so in denial that white privilege was something that I possessed. I did not feel as though my race had provided me with any privileges or advantages that were not available to people of other racial groups. I had never seen myself as better than or more capable than people of other racial groups. I felt very detached from the idea of white privilege and refused to believe that it was reality.
About half way through the semester, we watched a clip from the video Some Place I Call Home. This video was created in 2007 by a student at Trinity College, and it highlights the racial inequality that occurs on the Trinity College campus. Watching this video was a pivotal moment for me and my understanding of race, racial inequality and white privilege. I was shocked to learn of the racist acts that had occurred at Trinity College as recently as 2007, such as racial slurs being written on dry erase boards belonging to students of color. Later during an in class discussion about the film, I was even more surprised to hear that racist acts and the use of racial slurs continued to be prevalent at Trinity College. For the first time in my life, I felt personally connected to racial issues and racial inequality because I was immersed in a community in which these things not only occurred but were also openly discussed. I could no longer live in denial of the existence of racial inequality or the existence of white privilege.
I left seminar that day feeling upset and confused. I had never had been exposed to racism before, and I didn’t like it. My immediate reaction was to blame Trinity College for making me feel this way. I assumed that racism was an issue only at Trinity College because of the college’s racial and social dynamic, but I still refused to believe that racism was an issue outside of my school. As I walked back to my dorm after seminar that day feeling flustered, I called my parents to share what I had learned with them. I told them that I was in total shock to discover that racist acts occurred at Trinity College and that I couldn’t believe how ignorant and closed minded the community at Trinity College was. Racism had been dead for decades now, why were Trinity students still living in the past? That’s when my parents explained to me that though I may have been unaware of racism in my early life, racism wasn’t just an issue at Trinity; racism was a problem all throughout America. They were shocked that I had never been exposed to racism and explained to me that I had been very sheltered at boarding school. I had a really hard time coming to terms with this fact, but being in Color and Money helped me to understand that I was not alone.
From in class discussions, I learned that many of my white peers were also unaware of the effects of race before coming to Trinity College and participating in the Color and Money seminar. Additionally, one of the assignments for Color and Money consisted of our class interviewing a group of randomly selected sophomores at Trinity College, both white and nonwhite. The sophomores were asked various questions about race and social class and were asked how they believed race and social class affected them at Trinity College and outside of Trinity College. From this assignment, I learned that many of the white students interviewed were also unaware of their white privilege and unaware of how their race affected them on a daily basis. Hearing my classmates and the sophomores we interviewed share their experiences about race helped me to feel less alone as I worked to better understand the challenging topic of race.
Color and Money has changed my overall perspective of race, and it has opened my eyes to the inequalities that are present among different racial groups. I have learned how various racial groups perceive other racial groups. I have also learned more about my own race and how it affects my life everyday. Being part of the dominant racial group in America, I am not negatively affected by my race. I am now aware that my race gives me an advantage over other racial groups, commonly referred to as white privilege. I have realized the importance of race and the importance of discussing race. I also have realized that it is not unusual for white Americans to be unaware of how they are affected by race. With that being said, I realize that Americans need to start having more conversations about race. Had I not taken Color and Money, I would still be living with the misconception that racial inequality ended with Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. Color and Money has inspired me to speak up about my thoughts on race and to engage others in conversations about race. If we ever want to see a world where racial equality really does exist, we have to keep having conversations about race.