Friday, August 2, 2013

on White Privilege

First of all, I want to thank Dana from "Death by Great Wall" (which wins the prize for coolest adoption blog name, hands down), for linking my piece about Trayvon Martin last week: Two Worlds

I deeply honored.  Dana did great series this summer all about Older Child Adoption- if you know someone in the adoption process (or thinking about diving into adoption), please encourage them to check it out!

Secondly, if you are new to reading this blog and experiencing a bit of topic- whip lash, I'm sorry, and you'll get used to it. I'm predictably unpredictable. Yes, it's normal to write about hair care one day and racism the next. It's all related, right?

When I was in college, a very popular, successful senior was terribly injured in a skiing accident. (confession: yes, I went to the type of college where many students went skiing for winter break.)  This student survived, but lost the use of her legs and came back to school using a wheelchair.  The college built her a special accessible dorm room and created ramps to academic buildings for the first time. I secretly thought- "Wow, they are going to great lengths to accommodate this student! And she's about to graduate anyway!" I don't think I was the only one who was thinking this...

A few weeks into the semester hundreds of signs appeared.  They were taped to the top of steps, on doors, outside buildings, on ramps and sidewalks and on phone booths.  They said things like "I guess I can't go into this building." Or, "Too high to reach for me." Or, "wooooo, this ramp is dangerously steep!"

They had been handwritten and hung up by this student and her friends. And they blew my blindfolds off. I had been walking around, enjoying my privileged position as a person who can use my legs, and I had never looked at the world through the eyes of someone who couldn't.  Meanwhile, this student could no longer access about 95% of the campus that she'd once called home.  No more visits to friends who lived upstairs. No more hanging out in the loft of the student center.  I started noticing that every building, every one, had at least one step or stair to get inside.  There were barriers everywhere, but only if you couldn't walk.

According to a recent survey, most White Americans aren't concerned about the Zimmerman verdict, and think we are all talking about race and racism too much.  The same survey states that most Black Americans are very upset by the verdict and don't think we are talking about the impact of racism on the justice system enough.

Just like I used to walk around without any concern that differently-abled people would have difficulty living on my college campus (or the rest of the world) I think most White Americans are walking around thinking... "jeez, why is everyone so worked up about race again?!" I would guess that most able bodied people are unaware of their physical privilege, and most white folks are ignorant about their white privilege. The media doesn't really help them, either. They love to say things like, "Talking about race is difficult."

Difficult for whom? 

It doesn't have to be that difficult. We don't have to feel guilty about having privileges. (Do we feel guilty for being able to walk?) We just need to have our eyes open. We need to listen to people who are not in the same position as us. Our normal isn't everyone's normal. The experiences of the privileged can blind us to the challenges that others experience. We need to stop equating black=bad (or Latino=illegal, or women=stupid, poor=lazy, or any of the other ridiculous stereotypes that just won't go away.)

We need to put some ramps up so that everyone can get into the building.

Not sure social privileges are real? Here are some questions to start you (or your friends) thinking:

Racial privileges: What color are bandaids? What kind of shampoo is sold in the shampoo aisle? What kind is sold in the "ethnic products" aisle? What percentage of children's books have white characters?

Christian privilege: What day of the week is the Post Office closed? What holidays are Federal buildings, schools and offices closed?

Urban privilege: How many slurs are there for rural people? How many for suburbanites?

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