White privilege is a term coined by Peggy McIntosh in her paper, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” (1988). It contains a list of examples of white privilege that, in my opinion, seem accurate. Yet, as a recent high school graduate, I want to paint a picture of what white privilege looks like at a “liberal” high school, from a minority standpoint.
I attended a high school in what most would consider the liberal area of Atlanta, Georgia. Gay pride flags hung outside restaurants, men in fairy costumes danced in the streets, and dogs were as littered as the non-existent trash on the sidewalk. Leaving campus, I could enjoy spending time in a large park nearby, eating at restaurants across the street, or driving up ten minutes to an area with thrift shops and other eateries.
I never did any of that.
Instead, I would get on the school bus and go pick up my little sister from school. We would walk home and had to cross a busy intersection that didn’t have a cross guard. Once I got home, I would do my homework, watch TV for an hour, and then go to bed. I did this all throughout freshman year.
By sophomore year, a majority of the white students in my class had cars and stayed after school more, went to parties, or got jobs (granted, most of the jobs they had were just babysitting for kids in the nearby residential area). Almost every class was self-segregated. I would hear them talk about the places they went last night and the plans they had after school.
Junior year came around, and I took my first two AP classes. In both of them, I was one of three to four black kids out of eighteen to twenty students. Everyone else knew each other because they all hung out together after school and on breaks. Some of them had older brothers and sisters that knew most of the AP teachers. When it was the first day of class, those students and their friends talked to the teacher as if they had only spoken a few days ago.
During my junior year, nearly every white student had a car or used their parents’ car or knew someone with a car. That year, the school system rezoned the high schools, and guess which buses were cut off? The school buses that primarily served the black students. My parents were forced to spend $25 a week on bus fare, and instead of taking twenty minutes to get to school, it now took over an hour.
Senior year, my most stressful year, I took three AP classes and got a job in the after-school program at my old middle school. I was still taking public transportation, and as a consequence, I was always at least an hour late for work. My little sister stayed at work with me because there was no one who could pick her up from school.
This is only a snapshot of what white privilege was like at my high school. There are more instances, and I’m sure I could draw up a list as Peggy McIntosh did. This isn’t to say that I despised or hated them. They couldn’t help having what they had, just like I couldn’t help not having what I didn’t have.
People can’t help where they come from, so I can’t berate them for the opportunities they have, whether those opportunities are derived from their skin or merits. What I have learned from reflecting on these matters is that color blindness isn’t a solution, and bashing white people won’t make the minority’s plight any better.
As I think about the world I’m entering, and the fact that I’ll be attending Peggy McIntosh’s current place of employment, Wellesley College, I wonder just what role race plays in society. Many realize that race is a manmade concept and that we should “let go” of the past, but grasping the issue is certainly not possible if discussion doesn’t take place first. Our society needs to bluntly talk about white privilege, race, and inequality to finally end these taboo subjects.
My experiences in high school and dealing with white privilege made me aware that race is still important in our society. In college, I hope to have engaging discussions that will examine ways for our society to open up and heal the sore spot we’ve been trying to cover.
Rothman, Joshua. The Origins of Privilege. The New Yorker. 14 May 2014. Web. 9 June 2014. <http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2014/05/the-woman-who-coined-the-term-white-privilege.html>
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