So: article. This dude from Princeton protests the term privilege, saying he won’t apologize for his white privilege. He makes one good case: that when people assume they know everything about him based on his skin color, they’re stereotyping.
Yeah, he’s totally right there. Single stories are bad. I’ll say it over and over again. People are individuals, and they should be treated as such.
Okay, great. But then I started to get itchy…because the author goes on to talk about how this country gives everyone the same chance to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make themselves successful. He actually makes the direct argument that his ancestors came to a country that affords everyone equality. I got itchier.
I paused and reminded myself that I have understood what it’s like to have someone telling you you’re privileged when you feel anything but privileged. I get that. I grew up in a family that sure as heck didn’t have a whole lot of moola, and it probably wasn’t until during or after college that I realized the word “privilege” means a lot more than how much money is in your bank account. I get a little of what’s going on in this author’s head. I told myself that he just needs to grow up; see a little more of the world. He’ll probably better understand the complex meaning of the word “privilege” eventually.
Except here’s what I worry about: what if he doesn’t?
When I posted this to my Facebook timeline, I made a joke about him talking to me when he’s seen some things outside his bubble. I seriously hope he does. But then I thought about how I ended up getting outside of my bubble: I moved around the country a lot. I’ve worked in a lot of different schools with a lot of different populations of people. I’ve learned to listen a lot. I’ve learned to ask questions. That’s how I figured out that “privilege” is a really, really complex word, and it’s not something to throw around or rant against lightly.
I like to think that the author of this piece—Tal Fortgang—will be as lucky as I’ve been, and he’ll get the opportunity to talk and listen and learn with a lot of different people in a lot of different places. But my own experiences have also taught me that many people don’t get as lucky as I have. They stay in their bubbles for a really long time, not exploring the meaning of this word or the background behind it, setting public policy based on their bubbles, defending laws based on their bubbles, influencing public opinion in Time articles based on their bubbles…all without realizing how very not simple the term “privilege” really is.
Tal, I do sincerely hope you pop your bubble and see what I’m talking about someday. In the meantime, here’s a story for you. I’ll try to keep it short. Yesterday, I went to the Colorado National History Day competition with a bunch of my students. It was amazing. A stellar experience that every kid should have the opportunity to participate in. It was an opportunity that was, in many ways, brought to our school because someone in Colorado noticed that, like 95% of the kids who participate in this competition are white…and since 95% of Colorado’s population is not white, they thought maybe they should try to fix that ratio. And they started with our school, since 95% of our population is non-white. And, on a somewhat related note, non-rich. But I don’t want to start single-storying and assume the wealth of the people at that competition yesterday.
Our kids did a great job. They’d worked their butts off, and it showed. One of them placed third in the state, and we’re crazy proud. After the competition was over, two of them were sitting around with us, talking about what they thought of the competition.
“Most of the kids were white,” one of them said. “And there weren’t many projects on Chicano history. I think we had the only one.”
“Yeah,” another said. “And how were we supposed to win the exhibit category, anyway? A bunch of them had, like, Ipads in their exhibits.”
My fellow teachers and I reminded them that technically you don’t get any more points for including an Ipad in an exhibit. We restated how proud they should be, and that they had done exceptionally well in the competition by any measure.
Then one of our students talked about how she might do her project next year on Corky Gonzalez, a leader in the Chicano community in Denver. And you know why I was most proud of them? Because that conversation hopefully means that more people from more places will see her project next year and end up—at least in one small way—looking outside their bubble.
And maybe even popping it.