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Sunday, November 16, 2008

White Privilege

By Fabulously Feminist

While reading bell hooks’ “Black and Female: Reflections on Graduate School”, I discovered that I needed to add another bullet point to my list of what white privilege has afforded me. More specifically, reading hooks’ narrative made me aware that I am a benefactor of institutional bias found in academia. Upon reflecting on my undergraduate experience and contrasting it with the experiences bell hooks laid out in her narrative, I was made conscious of hardships that I did not have to endure because I was white. The following response paper provides a brief account of the painful self-discoveries I made.

To begin, many colleges and universities boast about the racial diversity of their student body and my alma mater Marquette University was no exception. However, in reality, there was little racial diversity. Walking to and from classes the quad was a sea of white and it didn’t get any more diverse in my Writing Intensive English and Women’s Studies programs. At the time I did take notice of this but, looking back on it, I was viewing it through a white lens and didn’t really conceptualize that the experiences of minorities at Marquette might be profoundly different from mine. It wasn’t until I read and reflected on “Black and Female: Reflections on Graduate School”, that I fully began to grasp this. For example, on campus and within my majors I could easily find a peer or peer group similar to my background—white, female, working class. In addition to this, hooks points out that African American students have the added anxiety that their “performance will have future implications for all black students”. My performance did not have future implications for all white students. This is what my white privilege has afforded me.

Another revelation of the reflection on my undergraduate experiences revolves around faculty. In her narrative hooks recalls “that in all my years of studying in English departments, I had never been taught by a black woman”. Unfortunately, this is my experience as well. I am sad to say that I never truly recognized that I never had any African American women professors until reading hooks’ piece. In fact, throughout my undergraduate career I only had one African American professor. This professor was a man and the only course he taught at Marquette was African American Philosophy. Again in this case, my perspective was seen through the white lens. I was excited that I had access to women professors to whom I identified with and that said professors became mentors to me. I didn’t even think that some of my fellow students would not have access to professors that they identified with or that they might have missed out on a supportive mentor experience due to lack of diversity among the faculty. This is what my white privilege has afforded me.

Lastly, and perhaps most difficult to write about, I have never had to deal with racism explicitly or implicitly from a professor. I was appalled when I read bell hooks’ account of her professors’ indirect racism. In my undergraduate years no professor ever “forgot” to call my name when taking roll, never avoided looking at me, never pretended to not hear me speak, and never demoralized me so badly that I had to take a break from school. These are the things I took for granted. This is what my white privilege has afforded me.

To close, before I began this reflection of the white privilege I experienced during my undergraduate years, I was fully aware of the fact that Marquette University, similar to other universities, had an institutional bias towards women. However, in wasn’t until delving into my current graduate coursework at Roosevelt University that I began to broaden my perspective and subsequently became fully conscious of the institutional bias in academia towards minorities. I now know that I was seeing gender and race through the normative white lens and this response paper, though it has been painful and made me feel ignorant, has been an essential in raising my awareness of the fact. Exercises like this and the discoveries and awareness’s that arise as a result, are exactly the reason in why I am pursuing a MA in Women’s and Gender Studies.

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