I could not have predicted the diversity of responses to our request for reflections on racism in America for our work-in-progress anthology, Essential Americans: the Stories that can no longer be Ignored. This entry is not a grievance or accusation, but a measured call to action, evidence that with education comes enlightenment. I do hope that the better angels within you direct you to tell your own story, as fiction, narrative, poetry or essay for consideration. To do so, you are making a statement that words matter, and that words can change to world. Share, and amplify your faith in that proposition, as Stephanie McCoy has done. I which I have taken the liberty of naming her entry:
Popping my Bubble
By Stephanie McCoy
I am a Caucasian woman who grew up in a low-income household. Some people would call my upbringing privileged, while others would not. The good: 1) I grew up with two parents 2) my parents owned a home 3) my parents were married 4) our family had health insurance 5) our family could afford daycare, allowing both parents to work 6) our parents supported us academically 7) my sister and I were never abused 8) my parents each attended some college and encouraged us to pursue higher education. The bad: 1) my parents eventually divorced and we transitioned to a single parent household 2) my parents, at times, endured substance addiction and substance abuse 3) our household was consistently considered “low-income” and occasionally relied on government assistance 4) my parents did not have money for us to go to college or have any type of savings 5) my parents each occasionally dealt with serious health problems 6) each of my family members were diagnosed with depression at various times. Although we dealt with challenges, our life was still much easier than many others because we were armed with white privilege.
My upbringing had emotional, financial, and educational struggle, but because of our racial status, we evaded discrimination and its devastating effects. Our white privilege allowed us to not be “redlined” out of our beautiful neighborhood. Our location provided a trickle effect to benefits by giving us access to great public schools, low neighborhood crime rates, and an overall educated community. I was pretty much unaware until mid-youth that there were neighborhoods near mine that were predominantly Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. that gave less opportunity than mine. In my little social bubble, I was always part of the majority: White people.
My elementary, middle, and high school’s racial make-up was mostly white. I had many friends of varied races/cultures in each level of school, but I don’t remember ever talking about race with any of them. It was not until college that I started to truly learn about the many ways that people are under-advantaged due to race. I majored in Education. It seemed the reoccurring topics that I studied were privilege, discrimination, and equity. As I progressed in higher education, so did my exposure to these important subjects and their effects on the past and present. Grad school taught me about important race exercises in the past such as “Blue eyes, brown eyes” by Jane Elliot and “White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh. Learning about these subjects and studies were life-changing for me. The newfound information prompted me to investigate my immediate environment and see where and how I could seek out and support the under-advantaged.
The first thing I did was research local politicians to learn who truly tries to help the under-advantaged, and who only seems to tend to the privileged citizens. Then, I found ways to listen to them and support them. Beyond our local officials, I identified like-minded politicians nationally. I was able to attend a Cory Booker rally and it,too, was life changing. If anyone cares about the underserved, it is him. The next thing I did was look into my children’s school to see what they offer to families who are typically underserved and underrepresented. I was pleased to see a plethora of multicultural education and family resources. It turns out, our kiddos’ school is one of most diverse schools in Oregon, landing in the top 5%.
Regarding inequity and racial inequality, I mostly learned about it through higher education in the field of “education.” Not all others have access to higher education and important matters in education. Again, my privilege comes into play here. I had access to education about college, access to student loans, and academic support from family and higher education staff. How are others supposed to learn about the large amounts of inequity and discrimination that exist before devastating cases like George Floyd happen? People can start by advocating for others 1) personally 2) professionally and 3) academically. Personally- people can ensure they are discouraging racism when they hear it or see it. They can challenge friends and family that promote racism and misinformation about race. They can attend protests that involve racial inequality. They can learn about organizations in their hometowns (such as the NAACP) that support people of color and volunteer and/or become members. Professionally- people can seek out employment within organizations that support under-advantaged racial groups and promote diversity. For example, I recently applied for a job with the library as a “Black cultural competency specialist.” The job works to ensure that Black literature is equally represented through the library’s offerings. I really hope to get that position because it relates to equity. Academically- people can intentionally learn and acknowledge information about discrimination, inequity, and privilege. They can learn about racism and discrimination in the past and present. They can learn about which local and national politicians strive for equitable measures in education, healthcare, and other important resources.
“Not being racist” is not enough to suppress white supremacy. One must actively 1) seek out information regarding discrimination and inequity, 2) debunk misinformation, and 3) support and advocate for underrepresented and under-advantaged groups. People seem to get defensive when “white privilege” comes up. It is important to remind others that privilege does not mean your life was easy or without struggle: it means you are not discriminated against due to the color of your skin. For too long, people of color have been discriminated against in education, healthcare, housing, voting, and other vital parts of life. There is more work to be done and white people are not helping by simply “not being racist.” Learn, educate others, and support the under- advantaged.