You should know, I wrote this post almost two years ago, but I was too afraid to post it. I still am, but I am going to anyway.
You Should Know
I am White and from a privileged background. You should know, I almost typed “moderately” before privileged because I have been trained to call myself “lower middle class” and justify my lack of privilege by saying things like, “But I paid for my own college!” or “But we ate generic cereal!” as if this means I understand lack of privilege. I do not. I was privileged.
I am a liberal feminist. I was raised to shatter glass ceilings and be whoever I want to be. You should know, I have often felt guilty about choosing to be a teacher, a traditionally female profession. I have rarely, if ever, felt my female-ness professionally. If anything, I have seen my male colleagues suffer from gender discrimination. Being female has not been a significant disadvantage in my life.
I grew up in South Central Pennsylvania, in a White working-class suburb. You should know, I have used that life circumstance as an excuse to not engage in conversation about race. I knew few people of color as a child and for me, that was somehow a justification for not understanding race or having to talk about it.
I have not counted, but I’d guess that of about 150 kids in my graduating class, fewer than 10 were Black. You should know, I did not have Black friends growing up. Neither did my family. That did not seem strange to me until a few years ago. I never asked or even wondered what life must have been like for those 10 or so Black kids and not one of my educational experiences forced me to confront the circumstances of their lives.
Despite knowing few Black people and coming from a politically liberal family, I am biased. You should know, I was too afraid to write “racist,” because I am a coward and I am afraid to believe that about myself. If I think about it, though, I know there are examples of times when I acted or thought things that were explicitly racist. You should know, for example, that during the mid-90s my friends and I called White kids who affiliated with hip hop culture “wiggers” and thought it was funny. I am deeply ashamed of this.
I went to a relatively diverse college. You should know, my college experience was segregated. I did not interact with many (any?) people of color. We lived separate lives on campus and this did not seem odd to me, except in passing. I do not know what college was like for my Black peers. I never asked. I used the excuse of not belonging to sports teams or social groups to justify the lack of diversity of my friend groups, but there is no excuse.
My students were nearly all White. You should know, I taught for 3.5 years before I had a Black student in my class. One. In fact, a second grader in my class once asked, during a curriculum-mandated lesson on the civil rights movement, “If segregation is illegal, why don’t we let Black people in our school?” I used to tell this as a funny story about the lack of diversity in my school. It is not funny. It was the reason I never talked about race with my students. I did not think we needed to. We did.
My teachers, supervisors, and colleagues were nearly all White. You should know, I did not have a Black teacher until college and I did not have an African American teacher until grad school. I did not have a Black colleague until ten years ago, five years into my career. I have never had a Black supervisor. Every one of my bosses except one was White and female. The one who wasn’t was White and male. It has shaped my learning experiences significantly and negatively to have had only mentors who look like me.
My social group is nearly all White. You should know, not one Black person attended my wedding. My kids play with white kids and my own friends are White. While I have friendly acquaintances and plenty of colleagues of color I respect and admire, my core friend group is made entirely of White people. This embarrasses me and makes me worried for my children. I don’t make friends easily under normal circumstances, so I am not sure what to do about this, but I want to do something.
I read. Voraciously. You should know, I have read a disproportionate number of White, female authors. I have made a concerted effort in the past decade to read more diverse authors and I sometimes have imagined myself “woke” as a result. I am not. Reading about someone else’s hardship, then putting the book down to return to my privileged life does not translate into understanding.
As a mom, I talk to my kids frequently about race and privilege. You should know, that does not mean I have fully confronted my own beliefs about race and privilege. I impart wisdom, but I am not sure I have reflected on how my own actions reinforce or contradict my words. I have not had to.
You should know, I am flawed. I am ignorant. I do not understand. Sometimes I have not even tried. I am comfortably privileged.
You should also know, I am hungry to learn more. I seek to understand. I want to be part of the solution. My heart aches for what I have not acknowledged until recently. I want to do and be better.
I have always seen myself as an inclusive and understanding person because my thoughts, reading, and writing reflect my beliefs. I fear my actions have not. I want them to.