Tuesday, August 6, 2013

White Privilege 3: For Whose Benefit?

Recently I was privy to a discussion wherein several parents were heaping praise upon the local schools. At one point, one interjected, "Of course, they have their problems too, especially issues with race. It's not perfect, but it's so nice that our kids can attend such diverse schools."

Let me clarify that our initial decision to homeschool was not in any way a rejection of schools or teachers. Nor has it been an attempt to shelter our children. Having said that, over the years I find myself content to avoid many of the challenges I see occurring in schools and generally more comfortable tending to the challenges that accompany homeschooling.

One of the areas I am happy to avoid, and where I admittedly feel fine about sheltering my kids to some extent, is the very issue peripherally alluded to during the aforementioned discussion: race.

The parents are right. Local schools are tremendously diverse and they, as white families, benefit from that diversity. The problem lies in the phrase tossed asunder: "Of course, they have their problems too, especially issues with race." For all-white families, that part of the discussion can be left as an aside while they benefit from diversity. For the very families who are creating the diversity other families get to enjoy, that phrase is not so disposable.

The reality, as I understand it, is that there is a systemic problem within the local school system that translates into segregation along racial lines by high school. Many are quick to underscore that the segregation is actually more economic than racial. I suspect that this is just another way to downplay the problem. In our community, as in so many, due to a history that is better analyzed by the experts (here's one; here's another), economic and racial lines are fairly close.

What struck me about the conversation was just how understandably easy it is for us (any of us) to discount the experience of entire groups of people because, whether we mean to or not, we benefit from their existence.

This is white privilege. It is male privilege. It is heterosexual privilege. It is Christian privilege. It is able-bodied privilege. It is the privilege of the wealthy and insured, those with homes and choices.

Once I got over my high and mighty self, the one who stands firmly entrenched within a family that is the poster child for our community's diversity, I started to ponder all of the "others", those from whom I benefit while failing to fully recognize their reality.

While I argued at the party that it is not the job of my children to show the world that the walls of racial division can and should be broken down (indeed, it is the job of those who continue to fortify the wall), I realized how many times I have built my own walls to keep people out.

It IS my job to speak and act on behalf of those who do not share the privileges I have, those privileges which have been undeservedly bestowed upon me through none of my own doing. I encourage each of us to observe the benefits we receive in life and to consider those who offer them to us.

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