Sharing a Life of Privilege
Getting real about white privilege means to me
November 28, 2016
Filed under Opinion
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I am Katelin Petersen, and I am a white woman; the fact that Trump is our next president scares me. Many say I was born into privilege strictly based off the color of my skin. I was raised in a conservative household. I respect my upbringing but that does not determine how I choose to treat others. I am a Democrat, I fight for LGBT rights, I strongly believe that every human regardless of citizenship has the right to attain the American dream, and I am against anyone who thinks it’s okay to take away a woman’s ability to choose. I want every human of all creeds, religions, races and gender identities to be treated as I would, with respect and dignity.
The other day at campus I was stopped and yelled at. I was accused of voting for Trump and having the privilege to walk away from this new regime unharmed. My job as someone who is considered privileged is to educate others in my racial group that we all lose our liberty under rule of a regime. I could have easily gotten upset and yelled back, but I embraced their anger and kept silent. I am there with all my fellow student body who feels threatened at the thought of losing freedom.
I started thinking about the term ‘White Privilege.’ Is it when you can sit in front of the class and be heard before those that are behind you? Is it automatically having the cops believe my side of the story? It’s many of those things and sadly ignorance is a disease we can’t cure overnight. We all have the responsibility to educate ourselves. I have used my strength and privilege as someone who was automatically given a seat in front of the class to bring forward those behind me and have them be heard just as I would. I want every race to be on equal playing grounds and I can help achieve that by becoming a good listener and advocate.
Just a few months back in Atlanta, Georgia, 14-year-old Royce Mann performed a slam poem at his school that went viral. His poem, winning multiple awards, was written to protest the tragedy in Dallas where five officers were killed; he called it, “White Boy Privilege.”
Mann stated, “When I was born I had a success story already written for me; you were given a pen and no paper. I’ve always felt that that’s unfair but I’ve never dared to speak up because I’ve been too scared. Well now I realize that there’s enough blankie to be shared. Everyone should have the privileges I have. In fact, they should be rights instead. Everyone’s story should be written, so all they have to do is get it read.” His performance was moving and inspirational. The power and rhetoric in his performance and poetry changed the perspectives of Americans around the world.
Communication’s Professor Cynthia Wang showed the video of Royce Mann to her Communication Theory and Humanities class as she introduced the term “White Privilege.” “I don’t like the term ‘White Privilege,’ but change comes with understanding,” Wang said. The professor has discussed the topic in class a couple times since she showed the video. Wang helps her class break down terms that may be misunderstood and discusses culture and inequalities through a communication theory approach.
The definition of ‘White Privilege’ is constantly changing. As history changes, meanings change along with it. Understanding the history of the word and the inequalities between races needs to be identified. The term itself was created during the time of slavery, allowing whites more rights than blacks. Slavery does not exist today, but there are aspects of the definition that still might have some meaning. With knowledge and understanding, instances like “Check your White-Privilege” can get swept under the rug and privileges can be used to fight for justice and equality.
“I agree and disagree with meanings connected to the term ‘White Privilege.’ As a Latina, I feel like I have to fight for respect more than another white individual that I may be up against. I know that everyone has challenges and we shouldn’t alienate a person with that term just because their white,” Blanca Torres, recent alumni SOC graduate, said. I do not agree that they always have the upper hand, but I do feel like the level of respect they receive is higher; that is what white privilege means to me. I try to never use that term though.”
It’s been a difficult week with the presidential election. The outcome has angered Americans around the country. Trump’s victory is seen as the catalyst for the resurgence racism, violence, and protests. It is important to be honest as American’s and express how we feel. Nothing can be resolved if these problems are not confronted. First off, gratitude needs to take place. We live in a country that allows Freedom of Speech. My parents live in Nairobi, Kenya. If an individual speaks against his or her government there, they are risking their life. Instead of using our free speech for negatively, free speech can be used for the greater good.
I was devastated like many other supporters the evening of Nov. 8. With ongoing protests, I have been reminded of my race and my privilege because so many angered American’s keep reminding me. This week alone, more than ten people have made the assumption that I voted for Donald Trump because I am white. I have also been told, “Don’t worry about what’s going to happen, you’re white, you won’t be affected by all the changes.” Incorrect. I have never received help from my parents and I have paid for school, by myself, out of pocket, for my education. I work full-time and go to school full time and I barely make ends meet. That’s not the point I want to make though. I don’t want sympathy, I want change.
I want people to acknowledge ‘White Privilege’ and use it to create change. As Mann says, “Dear women, I’m sorry. Dear black people, I’m sorry. Dear Asian Americans, dear Native Americans, dear immigrants who come here seeking a better life, I’m sorry. Dear everyone who isn’t a middle or upper class white boy, I’m sorry. I have started life on the top of the ladder while you were born on the first rung.” I acknowledge that I was born into privileges being a Caucasian female. My parents both graduated college and they set me up for a successful life. I want everyone to have those privileges. I agree with Mann when he says, “It’s time to take that ladder and turn it into a bridge.” It’s time for those with privileges to acknowledge their strength, not hide behind it. It’s time to even the playing grounds together.