You know that, or at least all of you that are long time readers or have ever met me. I'm very White. Very, very White. I've had every privilege that comes with that (I discuss some of that in a recent post about Sandra Bland). And while I have lacked other things, like straight privilege, or the upper echelons of wealthy privilege, because intersectionality exists, I have had a lot of advantages.
Many of them have been in terms of my education. And I am now an educator, and I have studied education, in a lot of cases through some unusual lenses. Those experiences and studies, while not granting me to speak as though I have experience life as a Black person - nothing could ever do that - have taught me much.
And so I am confessing something:
when I hadn't learned, hadn't experienced, didn't know as much as I have and do now,
I didn't like affirmative action.I thought that since I had read voraciously and studied hard and done well on my standardized tests and followed the rules and been a good girl, I should have every opportunity, be admitted where I wanted, get any scholarship (if I'm honest, I didn't even like the idea of need-based aid at the time). It's still hard for me to imagine people not getting into their first choice school, or not getting into any decent school, because my privilege and so forth set me up to get in almost anywhere I would have wanted to go. I was understandably uncomfortable admitting that maybe things weren't as fair as I thought, or that maybe others just as talented as I had been passed over, not once, not twice, but every day in a series of tiny outcomes that snowballed into a totally different life experience and set of opportunities.
I don't like admitting this now, for the same reason that some people were VERY upset with my post Speaking the Truth in Love, about beliefs that people who would not admit to bigotry/homophobia have that do make them, at least currently, bigots and homophobes. Seriously. People said I was being hateful basically for saying that anyone, anywhere, regardless of the fact that they DO believe sweeping, negative generalizations about a specific group and DO think it's okay for people to have fewer rights based on an unchangeable trait, is a bigot/homophobe. No. I am not hateful for calling you out. You are hateful for refusing to change your harmful beliefs, or for insisting upon imposing them upon people who don't share them and shouldn't have to.
Enter #Blacklivesmatter, enter #sandrablack, enter Dylann Roof, the refusal to take down the Confederate flag, a dredging up of Fisher v. University of Texas, #notallwhitepeople, and just a general insistence that White people in the U.S. are colorblind, that racism is done, that the African American Civil Rights Movement was a resounding success, that we have a Black president so Black people can do anything. I don't know what it's like to be Black and hear this. I don't. I can't.
But I know what it was like to be in a same sex marriage and hear people say the stuff I quoted in Speaking the Truth in Love. People said that stuff and expected me to be okay with it or even to agree, and it sucked. It sucked to play respectability politics and have to try to maneuver through a discussion like that. And I don't have to be out all the time. I pass for straight (though no, that's not a compliment either, as I discuss in a different post), so I can at least sometimes avoid these issues.
So I am concerned, White people who still believe the things I used to believe that
yes, definitely made me a racist.
They definitely meant I was participating in White privilege and White supremacy. I am concerned when you say that a Person of Color has "taken" your child's spot at college or grad school. I am concerned when you imply that someone of Color who has graduated from college must have only been accepted because of affirmative action and is incompetent now or you don't like them and that somehow reflects on all Black (just Black, not all other graduates of the same program) people or students. You wouldn't say that a White person who had an unfair advantage in being admitted to a program and now is not as good as some other graduates is a poor reflection on other White people. You'd say that person was an individual, a special case.
My views on affirmative action have changed. I hope within my lifetime we'll see proportionate numbers of every group represented at high quality educational institutions, even if that means that applying for my next graduate degree might be more competitive. I hope that if I ever have children, they will never sit in a classroom where everyone looks like them. I'm not sure affirmative action is really even enough to get us there, but it's what we have for now. Goodness, it might be the reason I was able to have a seat at a research one Big 10 university with an amazing scholarship that drastically shaped my life outcomes - 100 years ago, as a woman, who knows if my application would have been considered? (More intersectionality there for you.)
I'm still working on me. I try to check my privilege, but I sometimes fail. I try to ask myself whether something is simply different from how I do things or prefer them, or if it's really worse. If you're not doing the same, as a White person, you should start. Ask yourself if there's anything morally wrong with African American English Vernacular (AAEV/BEV/Ebonics), or if it's just hard for you because you don't understand it. Ask yourself why dreads seem less professional to you than man buns. Ask yourself how many books/movies/articles you've read/seen in the last few weeks (or if you have school age children, they've read/seen) with people that aren't White. I was shocked the first time I counted my picture book library and discovered that none had a Person of Color on the cover. I know some of my readers are more on top of this than I am. Some are maybe around the same point in the journey. It's rough, sometimes, but it's a journey we need to make. Not just to make the world better for Black people, though acknowledging #Blacklivesmatter is important, but because a world of equality, equity, justice, diversity, civility, and love is a world that's better for all of us.