Thursday, December 13, 2018

Understanding White Privilege at Trinity and Beyond

KATHERINE HOLMAN ’20

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Growing up as a white person in a white society, there has never been a specific time where I have been aware of my race. There was no monumental moment of realization in my childhood, no experience of feeling like the only person who identified with my race in the room, and never was there a time that I felt I was denied an experience due to my race. I was born to a white upper-class family in a predominantly white and wealthy neighborhood, which was the only environment I had ever known. I went to a private and predominantly white pre-school, elementary school, and high school, and now I am here, at Trinity College, a predominantly white institution. My personal experience with race has been less than abundant.

I had never heard of the concept of privilege until my sophomore year of high school, when I was exposed to the Black Lives Matter movement by the few students of color in my class. Even then, I did not understand the word “privilege” in its whole until my freshman year of college when my first-year seminar, called “Understanding and Reversing Prejudice,” dove into many aspects of what it means to be privileged. It was in this class that I felt as if I finally internalized my privilege as a white person. To me, privilege means that there are some things in life that I have never experienced, and probably will never experience or will have to think about, only because of the color of my skin.

Fast forward to my spring semester sophomore year at Trinity, I had the honor of receiving an invitation to the 2018 Posse Plus Retreat titled, “Hope, Hate and Race in the United States”.  Prior to the retreat, I had been exposed to a limited amount of knowledge of the Posse Foundation, a highly competitive organization that identifies students who have extraordinary academic and leadership skills that might be otherwise overlooked in the college admissions process.

The purpose of this article is not to declare myself as a changed person due to this retreat, nor to elicit praise, but rather to share three main takeaways that I have learned as a white person from the Posse Plus Retreat and from further research:

 

(1)  Be comfortable being uncomfortable. In complete honesty, I was excited as well as nervous to attend this retreat. Ever since I have been able to talk, I have never been an opinionated person (although I am writing for the opinion section, which is ironic). I am an extreme introvert who does not like to raise their hand in class for fear of sounding uneducated. Knowing that a major component of this retreat was participation and that the discussions I would be required to participate in were about race, I was afraid that if I were to speak in a conversation, my train of thought would be judged harder than I was used to. You have to realize that you will make mistakes. You might say something to someone that you might not perceive as hurtful, but as I have learned, it is about impact, not intention. If something you say hurts another person, you have to validate their feelings. Apologize, learn from it, then move on.

(2)  Listen in order to learn. Be comfortable with curiosity. I cannot stress this enough. When learning about a marginalized group when you are a person from a non-marginalized group, it is time to be a spectator. Do not go in with the idea that you already have lots of knowledge and that there is not much more to learn. There is always something to learn. It’s time to take a backseat and listen. Offer support. Amplify black voices. Who am I to dominate over conversations in a marginalized group, when I do not even have the past experience or personal knowledge about the struggles they might go through?

(3)  Actions speak louder than words. Saying that one has internalized privilege is one thing. But now it is time to actually put in the work. Actively work to unlearn prior beliefs of racism that only propagate the system. Place yourself in more environments where hard conversations are happening. Participate in those hard conversations. Join cultural houses. Use your privilege to help other people unlearn their subconscious racial beliefs that have been instilled to them by society.

 

Attending this retreat has made me more aware of my privilege than I have ever been before. I encourage others to attend this retreat as well, if possible. Finally, I have realized that I have a lot more to learn and that this is only the beginning.

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