Taking Racial Privilege for Granted

Josh Wessler

The words “white” and “non-white,” when used to describe people, create dangerous dichotomies. They imply positives and negatives— opposites. But, as a white American male, I am colored in the same way as Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. My skin pigmentation— by its physical properties— allows others to see me as white and to assume that I deserve greater access to materials that others are commonly denied. I am not “beyond” race, as I used to believe.

First, I’ll admit my part in this. I have never had to doubt the availability of certain things, such as college, if I worked hard enough and chose that path. This is because of the values my parents instilled, the encouragement of my high school and the expectations among my friends. But it was also because I was “non-colored.” Race, as a limiting factor, was simply not a daily concern. I cared deeply about civil rights, but only as an issue that others had to deal with. Only now do I realize that for every person that had to struggle against the stigma of race, there was someone like me, who took for granted being colorless— like race didn’t apply.

So please, consider me as colored. Consider that only if everyone joins the discussion of race can we begin to see the prejudice among us and between us all.

But why stop at merely welcoming others, such as whites, into the discussion? It is time for each and every member of the Middlebury community to actively place themselves into the dialogue. Privileges and advantages accrued to certain groups can act in invisible ways, but the expressions of these inequalities are glaring. One can see and measure racial segregation and race-based differences in wages, healthcare, higher education rates and varying exposure to disease-causing hazards.

What is especially difficult about these types of privilege is that those who benefit may perceive the inequality but find themselves innocent of complicity. Surely, growing up in a mostly white, affluent suburb and attending a mostly white college like Middlebury does not constitute an explicit act of racism. But what about the next generation? Will your kids grow up in that same suburb? Or will you move into a more socio-economically diverse community where the public schools are not as highly regarded, and risk limiting your children’s access to resources for academic achievement? The answer to this question determines if you participate in, and reinforce the system of white privilege.

If you think that the only problem is that minority kids are disadvantaged, look again. It is very likely that middle to upper middle class whites have disproportionate advantage. Is the college acceptance process fair? Not when most white students can go to college, at least somewhere, because of their wealth. What’s needed is a paradigm shift. Money buys degrees and degrees get interviews. The issue is not whether you believe in white privilege. It’s there. Look around at the faces on campus. The issue is whether you are ready to do something about it.

That’s not fair, you reply— why should you be responsible for fixing a system you did not create? True, it isn’t fair. But this system has no author. There will never be one Spartacus to lay our guilt upon. And if you don’t stand up, no one will. If you don’t have the conviction, why should you expect your children to?

If you don’t agree with this article, ask yourself one last question. Ask yourself what really bothers you: the idea of giving more people a fair chance at education, or the thought that if things were more just, you wouldn’t be able to get in to Middlebury? If you still are choosing to act like this divide doesn’t apply to you, maybe you don’t belong here.

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