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Changing Identities: A Reflection on Privilege and School

December 7, 2016

If you know me well, you know I am constantly doing something to learn more. I am reading blogs, books, or articles. I am listening to podcasts, books on tapes, or other people. I am talking to other people. Listening to other people. And trying to learn. Recently I have been listening to two podcasts on my drives to and from work (2.5 hour drive each way). One is called About Race, which discusses race in America. It makes me think. It makes me question. It makes me want more. The other one I just began listening to is called Intersection. It is no longer a podcast and it is from a couple years ago, but it is still relevant. While recently listening to a few episodes from both podcast I began to think about different topics, specifically intersectionality, ingroup bias, and outgroup bias. Ingroup and outgroup biases are pretty self-explanatory. You tend to hang out and associate with people who you view are in your group based on characteristics and not with people you fee cannot associate with your experiences or are out of your group. Intersectionality is an academic term to describe the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender. It is understood that these categorizations are overlapping and interdependent systems. When talking about intersectionality you talk about how your intersectionality impacts your life and how others may view you or interact with or around you.

Ten years ago the intersectionality that influenced my life the most would have been middle class and white. I had and still have privileges and I was very aware of those privileges based on my class and race. Even outside of America this intersectionality gave me privilege. When I lived in Kenya I was always pushed to the front seat of the matatu (group taxi) because I was white and needed to be treated as such.

Skip ahead to today and I have different categories that influence my life and play into my view of intersectionality. First off, I recognize that I am still a socially-perceived white privileged woman. Working in a university as a professor now I am more and more aware of my privilege in our nation. I am not a first, second, or even third generation college graduate. I am at least a fourth generation college graduate. My great-grandfather graduated from a teaching program (comparable to what we now call university) and was a teacher for his profession. Not only that but I am a second generation doctorate graduate. When I encounter my students who are first generation college students I am slapped across the face with the reality of my privilege.

Then I start to think about my son. He is a socially-perceived black boy, but also a culturally white black boy who has the shoulders of giants, who happen to be is white biological grands and great-grands, to stand on. He will be the fifth generation in our family to receive a college degree. How many black people in America, who have roots in America, can say that? If you know American history. If you understand the demeaning and degrading events that occurred in education for persons of color, you know the answer to that question. He will be in a small group of American Black boys who are at least fifth generation college graduates.

School though is an interesting topic. My husband and I specifically chose to stay in a district that experienced white flight in recent history. We had the choice and means to move to a smaller, whiter community, but then what would that do to our family, for our experiences, and most importantly for our son. I have heard story after story of black boys growing up in schools where few, if any, people in the building looked like him. Whether we made the “right” choice or not, is yet to be determined. However, I can state that after three years at his current school, in the school district which is now a majority minority, he is not the only boy of color. Instead of predominately white teachers consciously or unconsciously assigning stereotypes to him, they have grown to love him and his personality. He has been able to grow and experience diversity in multiple forms in a safe and caring environment. We did not keep him in a bubble, but let him see and experience differences. School is also an interesting concept when you discuss where to live. The intersectionality of my identity now is still a white privilege educate female, but it is also one of a white woman trying her damnedest to ensure her socially perceived black son is not discriminated against. This is where conversations become interesting.

People may argue that I overthink the idea of school and where to send my son to school. I would argue back that school builds the foundation for life experiences. If I don’t worry and contemplate every move I make and where I send my son to school, I am doing him a disservice. When talking about moving or talking about where to send children to school I have recently been struck by the fact that in my “mom circles” which are mostly all white women, I cannot relate. I will hear mom’s say, “Oh yeah, that is a great school.”  When in my mind I am thinking, “That is a great school for your white kid. What about my black kid?” It has been a learning experience for me to understand that the perceived “in-group” I have been placed in my whole life has changed. But it has changed internally not externally. I am not black. I am not viewed as a black woman. However, when it comes to my son, my ingroup NOW is a family of color or a biracial family. It is a process to learn that I am now in the outgroup to white mommy groups. Unless they begin to understand the thought process, the weighing of pros and cons, or the history of different areas of our nation or even state, I am no longer in their group. This can be challenging and isolating, but it can also be eye opening to the realities they bring to my life through their ingroup conversations and comments when they perceive me as part of them.

 

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