For most of my life race and social class has never played played a significant role. Meaning I am not a racist and for the earlier parts of my life I was surrounded by people of the same social class, so it never seemed to come up in my life as an issue. During my first year seminar, Color and Money, we examined the effects of race and social class and discussed how these relate to our lives. After looking at these subjects with much more detail I found that race and social class have been playing a huge role in my life the entire time. What I did not realize is that is not about what happened to me because of my race and social class, it is about what did not happen to me because of them.
Recognizing my white privilege was an eye opening experience because I had honestly thought that there was no such thing anymore. When people would talk about white people having an immediate advantage in life I did not necessarily believe it. I associated those type of things with the more southern states, where some people are still stuck in their outdated ways and ideology. I did not imagine that the prejudices that were once held years ago still affect minorities today. From my ignorant perspective, we went to the same schools in elementary school, knew the same people so I did not think that it played a factor in their lives either. I did recognize that there was a socio-economic gap that left the average minority on a lower level than the average white person economically, but I thought that people were working to change that. This became more evident when I went to private school for middle school and high school. I thought there were structures in place to combat these tendencies that still plague our society. I was convinced things like affirmative action and financial aid were put into place to make it a more even playing field. These systems can be effective, but they do not target deeper issues that still exist in our society. Having the ability to walk around campus without being asked for my ID and growing up in a society where things that we want are many times considered with things that we need are two privileges that many minorities are not able to experience. I did not realize that not having to deal with issues of race and social class already gave me an upper hand.
An experience that changed my view of what being a minority was like was the walk out that we attended in the Washington room. This event was intended to discuss the many racially charged events that have occurred on Trinity’s campus and campuses around the nation, and possible ways to fix them. People shared compelling stories about how they were discriminated against or looked upon differently because of their race. While all of this was going on, I could not help but feel like the outsider. People shared story after story of situations where people had said or done something very hurtful to them. It was evident that these things could not simply be brushed off or forgotten about easily. The students running the event wanted everyone to be heard, so they gave out index cards for people to write down their stories. After starting the event they told everyone to write down a story where you or a friend of yours felt excluded or discriminated against because of their race. I thought hard about this question, but I could not come up with anything. As I looked around this room there was a sea of people of color all writing feverishly, and every once in a while I could pick out a white person. More often than not that white person was doing the same thing as I was: scanning the room and wondering why it seemed as though everyone else had a story right off the top of their head, but I could not think of a single instance ever in my life. This exercise showed the separation between what a minority has to go through and what white people undergo. I, and many other white people from similar backgrounds that attended the event never knew what it was like to be discriminated against. Yet every person of color had a story where they were looked at differently because of their race. I am thankful that I have never been discriminated against, but this clear separation shows that our society still has many issues concerning race when every person of color began writing down a story right away.
At this moment I recognized the demographic of the room. As I looked around I realized that I was now in the minority. I tried to think back to a time when I was just one of a handful of white people in a room filled with people of color, and I could not remember one. This was a new experience for me, and admittedly I felt a little weird.
One black student made a long and funny speech on how he was fed up with the white culture being the predominant culture at our school, and how that can possibly feed into a white student’s privilege. He made fun of how we listen to and dance to EDM music at parties. He poked fun at how we wear clothing brands like Vineyard Vines and Patagonia. At one point in his talk I suddenly realized he was describing me. When I go out I listen to EDM music. Even at the event I was wearing Vineyard Vines, and I remember that day I almost wore my Patagonia (thank God I didn’t). It seemed as though every element of what he considered white culture that he addressed, I took part in.
I understood that he was doing it mostly to just vent some frustrations and joke around a little, but at the same time I felt as though he was targeting me personally. At the time I felt extremely uncomfortable and sort of attacked. I felt bad that he associated me with all these other stories of racism. I wanted to apologize but it felt a little unfair that I had to apologize for something I did not do. He was simply making judgements on my character from the way I looked but not actually what I did. That is when I realized that black people face this issue on campus all the time. He made a judgment on who I was the same way that a campus police officer judges a person of color when he randomly asks to see their student ID. It amazed me that for being at a place like Trinity College where I had worked so hard to earn my spot, I felt so deeply that I did not belong. I began to ask myself, “Is that how people of color feel when they are discriminated against?” It felt so strange that I worked so hard to earn Trinity’s approval, but in that situation I was not wanted. For the small amount of time I was at this event I felt attacked and very awkward, but I am very glad I went. It made me realize how it felt to do nothing wrong yet still be targeted.
My seminar Color and Money really opened my eyes to the effects of racism in our country. When I was young, I grew up in blissful ignorance to what was really going on around me. I had never experienced that uncomfortable sensation that I had felt in the walk out. For a split second I felt like a minority that was wrongly accused. I had no idea that while growing up my minority friends were experiencing that unpleasant feeling all the time. It occurred to me as I left the event, that after I leave the building that awkward sensation will go away and my life will go back to usual. On the other hand, after the walk out people of color that attended will go back to facing those uncomfortable and sometimes hurtful situations. I thought about the people close to me as well. My friends who are minorities will continue to face this throughout their lives. I decided that I had to make it a priority to change the way people think. Simply calling people out when they say something racist even if they did not know it was is very important. It is unfair and and simply wrong that people have to go through life facing situations where they feel that they do not belong. It is important that people speak out against racism and try to show ignorant people what is actually happening to minorities.