Sunday, July 6, 2008

Reflections on white privilege

The linked article on Salon is about a website, called Stuff White People Like. Sounds like a sociology book for non-white people. In NOW-speak, talking about whiteness was always linked with acknowledging our unspoken, unacknowledged state of being (if white) called white privilege.

What's white privilege? Well it's the things you take for granted. No unlawful search and seizure when driving through the wrong suburb. Plano used to be like that. See a beat up old car pulled to the side of the road with a police person talking to the non-white (Hispanic, black) driver... just checking to see why they are OUT OF PLACE, because of course Plano has no poor people. Oh wait, that part over the highway...EAST Plano, it might have a FEW poor people, but we do have a QUOTA don't we? And of course no one is ever homeless, abused or hungry in Plano since it's a paradise. OK, what have I been smoking?

There are ACTUALLY people in Plano who think those thoughts! It was pretty alarming to me when I moved here almost 20 years ago. I told people that I moved to Great White America. Coming from San Antonio, the lack of diversity, the lack of anyone of color (other than pale or tanned white people) was a utter SHOCK to me. I had always lived in a place that was diverse. There was a Mexican restaurant 1 block from my childhood home. Hispanic people lived across the street. My friends in school had been white, Hispanic, African-American, Native-American and Asian. PLANO was a shock to my culture radar.

Even in college, at the elite Trinity University, we were not all white... just mostly. Mostly upper middle to upper class, white kids of privilege. I learned a lot about myself and others while at Trinity University. Some of my prejudices and biases were challenged and others were formed. I learned that there are 18 year-olds that drive Jaguars. And there are also others that take the bus because they don't have a car. Both were students at Trinity. One of them was me... living at home my freshman year and riding the West Ave. & Hildebrand bus routes to Trinity's NW corner by the Ewing Halsell building. The building that became home away from home for a Computer Science major.

I met people of different religions and cultures at Trinity. My first close Jewish friend became my 1st boyfriend, after he hit his roommate over me... on an ROTC field trip to Colorado Springs (Dec 1978). Randy was my 1st boyfriend and we played platonic games of kissing and cuddling, listening to Michael Franks sing Popsicle Toes on the (LP) stereo. He introduced me to bagels with cream cheese, the San Antonio Fiesta Israeli festival at a local synagogue... and must more. He was probably my 2nd best friend that was a guy... Ricardo Vela at Edison was my 1st guy best friend in high school. Randy wrote me over the summer and slowly unfolded his desire for his best friend (guy) in Miami. He was discovering that he was gay and came out to me before anyone else. I wasn't too thrilled to loose my 1st boyfriend, but at least it wasn't to another girl... We stayed friends through Trinity and beyond. Now we don't talk much, but he knows where to find me, and I him... he's a bigwig real estate developer in Portland Oregon now. Still guy, still alive!

Some other differences I learned about at Trinity happened in my Sociology 101 class. Dr. Briseno wanted to shock us. He called the class project a "sociological tour of San Antonio". We were to visit certain neighborhoods and put our new eyes that had been reading sociology to work on these places... and report back. I got paired up with another San Antonio girl, Chris. She had a car and I didn't so it worked out.

We started by driving across Hildebrand street into another world. Olmos Park Texas, is OLD money, understated money, very wealthy people. We observed the smaller homes on the edge (formerly a black neighborhood for the servants of the upper crust residents of Olmos Park). We observed the houses, the yards, the people walking, biking, lounging and driving around the beautiful pristine neighborhood. It looked like crime and pollution/trash had taken a holiday... Because like Plano, Olmos Park didn't look like a city for the most part, it looked like a park.

The other neighborhood we visited was on the near west or east side of San Antonio... I don't recall the exact neighborhood, it was either black majority or Hispanic majority but it was poor. Very Poor! We saw cardboard shanties that people actually lived in. (At that point in my life, I didn't know what homelessness was... can you imagine?) We saw houses with yards full of trash and old cars and other junk. We saw mangy dogs, scruffy cats and neglected children roaming. We locked the doors of our car and got the heck out of Dodge!

Both extremes shocked me. A child of San Antonio, I had grown up in a middle class, probably working class actually, neighborhood. All the kids had enough to eat, OK clothes, mom & dad living at home usually, siblings, one or two cars, one or two bathroom, two or three bedroom simple ranch or bungalow style houses (one story), no pools except on certain more upscale streets, "trash" trees like the mesquites with thorns in our yard. I thought I was normal... average.

I learned at Trinity that my family wasn't average, it was working class / poor. My father never made more than $25,000 while I was in college. I was making that salary when I had been out of Trinity about 3 years. I think I learned about white privilege and also about class-ism and a few other -isms at Trinity. That's the price of a college education for a scholarship kids like me. Moving out of your comfort zone... expanding your horizons... learning about change and changing. Isn't that what college is all about?

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