White Like Me Notes- Part I
One of the most influential and thought provoking books that I have read during my time in graduate school was White Like Me by Tim Wise. I have decided to post some of the notes, including many quotes, I wrote down during my original read through and how they have and will continue to influence my work in student affairs.
“I am where I am today, doing what I am doing today, in large part (if not entirely) because of being born white”- When I first read this statement I was immediately frightened, frightened by the fact that I could and should make the same statement. One of the hardest things to come to terms with when discussing issues of privilege and oppression and becoming an advocate for social justice is realizing that my achievements, my successes, even the extent of my failures have all been impacted for better (most of the time) or for worse (hardly ever) by my identity compared to the dominant paradigm (white, male, heterosexual, able bodied, middle class). By the same token, the achievements, successes, and failures of the students I work with are equally tied to their various identities.
With regards to the previous quote: “I say this not to detract from whatever genuine abilities I may indeed have… but simply to say that ability and hard work alone could not have paved the way for me”- I see this statement as an absolutely necessary addition to the above statement, particularly when it comes to student affairs and social justice work. I can not attribute all of my success to the color of my skin, nor should I expect or imply that other white students do the same. Forcing a person to recognize their privilege, without also allowing them to recognize where they have been oppressed only helps to isolate people and make them cling to the privileges that they have. I think my greatest lesson in this came when Peggy McIntosh came to speak to the incoming OSU class of 2012 and had everyone in the audience reflect on times when they had been given advantages because of their identity and times when they had suffered hardship because of their identity. While I was a bit surprised and a bit disappointed that white privilege was not talked about at length, I appreciate the small steps that Peggy took to get people to not only recognize how it felt to have been oppressed but how it felt to be given the unfair advantage. In the long run, conversations like the one she began are much more likely to continue on than ones that force people to choose a permanent role as the oppressor or the oppressed.
“I could rest assured that MY failures would be my own and never attributed to my raical inferiority”– I see this statement along with the first quote as the double punch that makes privilege so strong. Not only can the dominant paradigm take complete credit for their successes without realizing their majority status has played a role in their success, but they are also free to act independently from all others within the dominant paradigm. In other words, they can create their own unique identity with their own unique values, goals, and assumptions and never once be questioned about how these things impact their greater community. While it is important to make students within the dominant paradigm aware of this type of privilege, I think it is more pertinent to help students from underrepresented populations understand that it is misguided to attribute all of their failures to their minority status. Similar to Tim, their genuine abilities and hard work have had and will continue to have a significant role in their future successes and failures. Ultimately maintaining an awareness and openness in discussing systems of oppression that affect students is important. It is also important to celebrate the individual successes that students achieve through the use of their natural and developed skills and abilities.