On Privilege


I grew up in North Minneapolis. I attended Loring Elementary on 44th and Thomas. I spent summers at YMCA camp, swimming in Victory park with Hmong, Black, Somali, and white kids. I always “saw” color. I remember being punched in the stomach in kindergarten by the class bully, Dante. He was twice my size and called me “dumb white girl”. I told on him and the principle called our parents in to discuss discipline.

Even then a part of me was learning. I knew that he had learned this compartmentalization from grown ups, just as I had learned to fear the large black woman who cornered my mother at the laundromat. Fear is unchecked covert racism.

I knew that as a small white child I held privilege. I knew because I didn’t fear the police. I was never taught how to be compliant, or submissive to them by adults. I was taught by example that they were my protectors.

In fifth grade we moved to the suburbs, and I found myself in a startling new world, just 30 minutes from my old neighborhood. I became one of 28 students; a class of all white faces. I had never played soccer, or any organized sport. I was behind in every subject except reading. The system was entirely structured around safety, and everywhere I went, I felt cocooned by a false sense of it. All of a sudden, I could ride my bike, without limits and parent-appointed restrictions. There was no “Bad Neighborhood”. In the winter of 3rd grade while at Loring, we studied and participated in Kwanza, instead of Christmas. My new classmates had never heard of Kwanza. My older sister had it worse I believe, though she never would speak of it to me then. She unfortunately entered the scrutinizing world of middle school, in a district where the median household income was 3 times that of our North Minneapolis demographic. She was tormented by white girls. Ostracized for dressing “ghetto”, wearing the wrong shoes, and loving basketball.

It takes humble unpacking of core beliefs to dismantle one’s self-image.

I, along with many other white people, have believed the lie we’ve told ourselves. I vote liberal. My mother raised us early on as a single parent with the bare minimum child support coming in. I received subsidized everything. I try to be a voice for marginalized people, whenever possible. So I thought that I was “good”. How could I be racist?

I am learning that I must unlearn so many false institutions of truth. Human race depends on classification as a survival technique. We observe and take action based on what feels “safe” and make choices through learned patterns.

It is up to us as an ever-evolving species to change behaviors that are not working. We are better. We need to act better.

I’m frustrated and sad for you. I’m so sorry that you are still fighting, and I am sorry for my complicit complacency.

There won’t be many chances to learn the same lessons. I fear that this reckoning is overdue and undervalued, even now. I will work to deprogram innate strategies of living and seeing this world. I will use my heart and awareness as a white woman to protect and defend the right for black people to feel the safeness that I have been privileged with.

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