I really hate discussing racism because discussions never seem to come to a good conclusion. Today in Kresge Core was no exception but it was certainly different than what I am used to. Our teacher wanted us to discuss racism not as an external force but as part of daily life, even on campus. Our class split into groups of seven to discuss a 1988 essay on white priviledge. It said, basically, that in addition to the disadvantages minorities have, there are unfair advantages for white people, and we have to give them up to make any real strides toward equality. Not doing so perpetuates systemic racism. The advantages were things like failing without representing your whole race as failures, being able to speak without your race on trial,and combatting racism without negative consequences. It was not a very convincing essay.
In my group we first tore apart each of her arguments, then said that clearly the eightees were very different than today, then we criticized the author's ability to focus and be coherant. We ridiculed the concept that systems are designed for white people: One priviledge listed was being able to get your hair cut, and another was finding familiar food in the grocery store. "When was the last time you got your hair cut by a white person?" one of us asked. "Grocery stores don't have a 'white' section!" and we laughed. "I say, grocer, procure for me a pheasant, a measure of barley, and mincemeat pies, there's a good man." Then we talked about our own races. No one in my core class is black, but in my group we renounced our priviledge and guilt one by one. "I'm half Israeli" offered one boy, and then we all got into it. "Yeah, I'm actually Irish..." "I'm Asian, from Armenia." "I'm Asian from Russia." The tone of the discussion was very 'These mythical "white" people are apparently behaving very badly. If we see them, we must ask them to stop oppressing everyone.' The half Israeli boy said "You see, none of us are really white. It's an oversimplification. She just wants to make people feel bad." At this point I pointed out that I personally identify as white. I am not visibly the most German/Swedish girl in the world, with my brown hair and green eyes, but I thought that as the physically most northern/western European person in the room I should probably represent a little. It's also a little hard to claim my ethnic roots as I don't speak either language or celebrate the holidays or eat the food or plan to go to either country and I am at least 4th generation American on the most recently immigrated line and American Revolution descended through another line.
We were upsetting our poor teacher with our insistence that we were a multicultural, racism free group. She couldn't actually tell us "No matter where your parents are from you are white kids and people treat you the best and that is wrong and you must change it.", but that is what she implied. "For homework, create a list of the priviledges you have because of age, finances, gender, race, or orientation."
I know that people give me slack that not everyone gets, because I am nice, and young, and sort of pretty. But that doesn't make bandaids or hair salons racist. Honestly, walking around that campus I feel like I'm on the safe side of the power binary. It's a 40 year old state school, not a 200 year old private school, but I still feel it. The way the people who work the dining hall don't speak very much English, the trees and library and the views and the courtyards and the art gallery, the way students ignore all of the people with hands-on jobs except the bus drivers... There is a class issue, if not a concrete racial one. Outside my Core class there were men cutting branches with power tools, and because we absolutely must have silence for our important analysis and high level thinking in our mandatory freshman Core class we were joking and complaining about the noise. "I'm sorry, but it's driving me crazy!" said one girl. "Anyone have a bb gun?" joked our professor.