So, this happened. After a powerful lesson in Dr. Littleton’s class, she gave us a worksheet titled, “Understanding Privilege.”
Wow! As I stood to walk out of class, I was confronted with a term I had little knowledge of, “privilege.” Then, the word “understanding” set off bells in head. I was momentarily stunned by the memories that rushed back to me and the time that my white privilege saved me. You see, I went back to a time when I battled addictions and lived the life of an addict and all of bad habits that followed. You have no idea of how I prayed for understanding, something I didn’t have at the time. But how can I understand privilege or my white privilege, if I never knew it existed. I’ve never heard of white privilege before I arrived at class today; not that it would have mattered, I was living my life.
While sitting in class, I recall looking around the room and feeling in my spirit that I am here today seated in this class among my peers because of my white privilege. The vast majority of the students seated in my class today will never experience the benefit of my unearned privilege, my white privilege.
In my opinion, white privilege is not something many people will ever fully understand…to a certain extent. By that I mean, how can you understand something you can’t experience? You might be thinking that she thinks she’s better than me! But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s my white unearned privilege that says I have an inherent advantage and as much as I would like to apologize, I cannot apologize. In fact, I thank God that I have it.
But wait! I am a single white woman with three “baby daddies” and my recovery has become my albatross. The struggle is real! Yet, I realize my struggle was a choice and not my birth right. To deny my white privilege would be like giving away my rights to a good life. I’ve already done that before. You see, I can clearly recall that day in court where I was sentenced as a felon and had my rights taken away. Here’s where my privilege manifested and became real and obvious. For my crimes, I was sentenced to do my time, six months in rehab WITH my children. As a white woman, I was given a second chance at life. In stark contrast, my Mexican-American co-defendant was given five years in prison WITHOUT the opportunity for rehabilitation. We were there for making the very same bad choices. THANK GOD for my white privilege or who knows where my children or I would be today!
As a white woman, I may never be able to understand oppression like the Native or African-American, what it is like to be undocumented in America, or the experience of an LGBTQ serviceman or veteran. How could I understand what I could never experience?
So, here is what I will do…I will reflect each day on who I am…I remove my veil of ignorance and embrace my having white privilege, so I can be culturally sensitive towards those who do not have an unearned privilege. My obligation as a true social worker calls me to work for social justice and advocate for equity. These are now my life goals.
To the student who wrote this. I thank you for your bravery and boldness. I applaud you for taking risks and allowing me to share your story. You have a powerful story and a powerful voice. I am so happy you were able to take a very difficult concept and glean an important perspective that will allow you to be more effective in the work you do. I am forever proud to have had you in my class. I wish you tremendous luck and success.
*A few minor edits, but this is her voice.