I was really going to try to make an effort not to write negatively (or “hate on” as this originally read) my parents for the rest of the semester. I have already hit my father pretty hard in my journal, and, honestly, my parents are getting me through one of the toughest transitions of my life. My parents are the best parents a person could ask for, so hope this does not come off as me hating them.
Quite honestly, this entry is not about my parents. Rather, it is about a conversation I had with my parents. To set the scene, I’ve been talking with my father a lot lately about pursuing a career in accounting. Although I have no experience in accounting I have access to a year long accelerated master’s degree program and could find a job after that. Although a job sounds nice, my goal in life (up until the real world started staring me in the face) has never been to get a job. My goal, instead, has been to make a difference (yes I am now realizing I could easily do both). As the two conflicting life goals pulled at each other, I asked my dad (jokingly, but perhaps seriously at the same time) if I could impose my “staunch liberal agenda,” on my my career. To my question, my father, a stubborn conservative, asked in a not-so-nice manner, “and what agenda is this?” Having been through a thousand of these conversations with my father at this point, I snapped back (quite stupidly), “the opposite of yours.”
Although I did not say it outright, my father knew what I meant. I was implying that his agenda is “the opposite” of anyone who cares about social justice’s agenda. My father glared at me for an eternally long moment before stating, “you’ll grow out of it.”
This statement has haunted me for about a week. Thus, I take this opportunity to dissect it, its meaning, and its implications.
First, I could tell my father meant it. He truly believed I would grow out of it. Perhaps, in his Jim Crow descendant manifestation of aversive racism he truly thought that since there is so much less overt racism (so much less racism, to him) left in the world, I would simply realize that my agenda was not practical or useful and I would move on to more important issues. My mother has referred to my social justice interests as my “Kumbaya phase.” I think, in this statement, my father has echoed that sentiment. Why would someone grow out of caring about the fixing one of the largest problems in the world? Does my father think I will get tired and give up? He knows that would never happen if I actually had set my mind to something. Dos he think the problem is unsolvable? Perhaps, but as a person who lived through the civil rights era, my father has seen so much growth in the status of minorities in America that he should honestly believe that anything is possible.
The conclusion I have come to is not one that is easy for me to accept, and one I hope will not ever actually come to fruition. The key term in white privilege is privilege. Privilege, in most cases, and certainly on a personal level, is usually considered better kept than lost. My father thinks that I will first find a job. Second, I will keep that job. Third, I will make money from that job, and, fourth, I will enjoy having the money from that job. That job will most likely be obtained through some form of white privilege.
As a twisted manifestation of the Protestant work (even though we’re Jewish), ethic combined with white privilege my father has predicted that once I have seen the benefits of my privilege I will not want to simply spend it on the benefits of other people. I will have important personal uses for my privilege, and, it will be too valuable to give up.
In some ways, my father is right that this could feasibly happen to a lot of people. Once someone fighting against the systematic privilege of our oppressive society feels the benefits of that privilege, it has to be exceedingly hard to give that privilege up. This is especially true when someone feels that he or she has earned that privilege. So, I pose this question: How do we stop people from growing out of it? The most important people to change are the biggest benefactors of privilege. In order to break this system, privilege, even “privilege earned” (and I stress the quotations) must be spent for the greater good, not kept for personal gain.
4 thoughts on “You’ll Grow Out of It”
Dan, I too have had a similar experience and it’s a frustrating situation to endure. It’s hard after taking a class like this to not want everyone to have the same realizations and “ah-ha” moments we’ve all had, but as you acknowledged, White privilege has a way of rearing it’s ugly head and it’s even harder when it’s with someone you care about. It’s especially difficult when you’re met with backlash that’s targeted at you. I think what I’ve learned in these experiences is to not give up or think of it as a lost cause. Like we’ve done in class, think about approaching him in a way that acknowledges his viewpoint and comes from a compassionate place. Also, as hard as it is to continue having the difficult conversations, I’ve also learned that usually a strong response—especially one that undermines someone he deeply cares about—means that he’s heard you and will probably continue to think about it; change usually comes when met with conflict. I think you also bring up an interesting question: “How do we stop people from growing out of it?” I think you stop growing out of it by continuing to discuss what we’ve talked about in this class with others and by utilizing your privilege in a tangible way by supporting progressive policies with your vote and voice.
Lately I have taken to discussing with many of my white friends overt and aversive racism. While for years my friends have spoken out against overt acts of racism exacted against me and my daughters, they have only recently begun to recognize some of their own implicitly biased schools of thought. See my friends always thought that because they had a black friend for years, there was no way they had any racist tendencies. I had to point out recently to one such friend that saying tome “ well you are not like them” and making remarks about blacks and how their disadvantages were mostly due to their lack of effort was due to implicit biases they were not aware of. This did not sit well with most of my friends and they too thought, I was “going through a phase” and would eventually grow pass this once I was done taking this class. I have had to decide how to maintain these friendships while educating my white friends on their positions of privilege and the impact they have to effect change if they spent their “privilege bucks”. I started out just wanting to counsel women and teens who have been abused in an effort to help them cope and triumph over the issues of life traumas . Now I know I can do this, only better , as I face the issues of race relation and how social constructs about their race , gender, education , and lack of access would impact my being able to make a difference.
Alexis, I think your last sentence is an excellent point about addressing any issue related to racism or privilege to White individuals. I will definitely keep that in mind when I talk to my own family members or peers about these issues. I find that I struggle with getting them to understand what I am talking about. I think if I can remember to put myself in their shoes and remember my own thoughts prior to my education and interest about these topics I will be better prepared to discuss such issues with them.
What does “growing out of it” look like to him or to you? I’m 36 years old (ouch, admitting that is PAINFUL!) and I have not grown out of it yet although; I am keenly aware of the benefits that I reap daily from simply being white. There is a fine line there, you are correct, but how do you propose to speak to people about spending their privilege for the greater good when they refuse to see the imbalance that exists from the onset? Many will respond in a manner consistent with your father in that, you need to have a job. You need to support yourself and any future family that you may have. For some reason, when you speak of properly spending your privilege to them they hear that somehow you are proposing that you are going to not work. I don’t quite understand why that is but that is why I asked you the question of what that looked like to you because, if you can describe THAT instead of saying something that screams “I’M NOT YOU” maybe he will be able to relate to its merit and hear you a bit better.
As Connie said on Wednesday towards the end of class; trying to have reflective judgment can carry you a lot further in life. Ask your dad what he sees as “growing out of it” and then you can at least base your response on real discussion rather than assumptions and intonations. Trying to understand the other side of the spectrum can open things up and perhaps then taking baby steps toward discussing privilege, how to spend it properly and why it is unearned may be better received. As we discussed in class, even though it appears to be absurd, making Whites “comfortable” so that you can have a discussion about reality can sometimes be the only way your voice will be heard. Otherwise, they shut down, tune you out and write you off as “just another Liberal”…even if you’re a moderate or a conservative! Sometimes the best offense is having a good defense and that comes from knowing the other side’s point of view sometimes better than they know it themselves.
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