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whiTe priviLege, backPacks, and mE…

October 28, 2011

Stereotypes keep coming and going and more often than not I have found that we are all creatures of habit that have been trained and nurtured by a society that was/is built and constructed around some very racist and classicist and sexist ideals. Which (in the larger framework) means what? Perhaps nothing at all or maybe when we try to untangle these societal knots we can begin to understand why it is so hard to change people, to change ideas, and to simply just change. Because, really…what does change actually mean? What does it look like? And how do we know it when it happens?

In 1954, folks went to bed one night and the world was black and white (separate and very unequal) and when they woke up, the world – according to the Supreme Court –  was now this motley shade of gray. It was integrated and it was supposed to be equal. We now know what it should have looked like and we also know what it actually looked like. Had real change happened? In one sense yes – the law had been changed and in another sense no – because laws can not change the way a person sees, accepts, or defines you. I had my Stereotypes today and we talked about privilege here at our university. What does it look like? How is it defined? And what does it really mean in our eyes and through our experiences? My students went out on Wednesday, after reading Peggy McIntosh‘s article Unpacking the Backpack of Privilege and they were charged with photographing examples of privilege and coming up with a list of shared student privileges. From the parking lot to the on-campus Starbucks, they were increasingly surprised at how much privilege seems to exist (albeit this is all on the surface) at their campus. They mentioned in class that it was not the privilege that bothered them but the fact that they never saw “privilege” as privilege before this class. There is talk that my students live in a bubble – a privileged bubble that encapsulates them and protects them from the outside world – my goal in this class is to (I want to say pop it but that is too harsh) do what? I don’t know but I will wrestle with this question until I figure it out. SomedAy…

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