Native American author and attorney, Gyasi Ross recently published an article in Indian Country Today about an altercation with a couple on a Southwest flight. The couple refused to let him take an empty seat next to them, which created an ugly spectacle. Enough so, that the pilot got involved and blamed Ross, threatening to throw him off the soon departing flight. In his article, Ross points out the white privilege within the actions of the pilot and the couple. While I have faced equally as difficult situations, I feel that perhaps I should speak up about some milder experiences with white privilege at my university.
One example is a student in one of my classes who had states his opinion on the backlash from the Arizona State University controversy regarding the “Black MLK” frat party held last month. The student believes that if people didn’t make stereotyping such a big deal than it wouldn’t be. Concluding that everybody was “over-reacting” to the situation.
Many Americans live in ignorance of the thousands who live without support in this country, and ignorance is bliss right? However, not only are many ignorant, some even blame those in poverty saying it is their fault, not once giving a look towards themselves and their mindset.
For those who don’t know, I’m describing white privilege. It is a mindset that exemplifies a “we know better” attitude. White privilege is something that this country was built. History has proven that. I am not writing this to trash America. My goal is to catch the eye of Americans who would rather look away, denounce, and ignore the struggles of some populations without a second thought.
Privilege, defined by Merriam-Webster is a) a right or benefit that is given to some and not to others; b) a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud; and c) the advantage that wealth and powerful people have over other people in society. Add white in front of it and it describes most of America. I am not being racist, because as Ross is pointing out, white privilege is different from racism. If you feel differently that is your right, just like it was the students right to express his opinion.
Having attended predominantly white schools and currently attending a university in a predominantly white state even though there is vital Native history here, it astonishes me how little the public recognizes that.
At this university, those who I have considered friends here constantly point out my skin color, calling me “black” or “basically black.” I am Native. I am Irish, I am French, and while all influence my life, the last two are hardly registered in the minds of my peers. Whether pointing out my skin color and making these assumptions is with a joking tone or not it is a serious topic that always seems to come up in the situations I am in here. However, my appearance doesn’t have to be ‘announced’ in order for me to understand the intent or the subtext of the circumstance.
A recent situation where a “friend” felt that I have invaded their group of friends and that I should be thankful for the one’s that I already have and value them more. According to them it was to let me “know what I am doing wrong” and to help me “grow” from it. Yes, I may have a strong personality, but I don’t believe that they were focused on my personality.
This exchange has shown me that this person’s confidence in themselves and their own friends is lacking and that the blatant put down of my want to make new friends is wrong and I am not worthy of such things. They have never done this to any of their other peers and judging by the fact that I am the only person of color in this group I feel that it possesses that privileged underlining due their expression of “knowledge” of what would be in my best interest.
While I have been hurt, I’m not angry. I can only think about how it allows me to continue to hold my head up proudly because they’ll never know or understand how strong you must be to know when to let things go and when to speak out when you are a person of color in a “white world.” As Ross points out, most people of color are taught since we were young to just brush it off “for our own safety and to get along” in life but he too knows that he has to share his experiences even if he had to silence himself at the time. The strength that it takes to do this, this color, my native culture, this is my privilege.