I honestly don’t know what to title this, but hey, my name is Ashley and I have benefited from ‘white privilege’ unbeknownst to me.
This has been bugging me lately since the race button has been pushed repeatedly over the last few weeks which has gotten me to thinking about my life as a woman of color, more specifically, a black woman. I grew up and was raised in Kingwood, TX, a relatively affluent (I am using this term loosely) lily white neighborhood. It was the place to live in Houston during the 90’s: a great school system, beautiful trees, safety, stability, you know, the beige, neutral values from the fifties and sixties manifested. I was tutored privately, played the violin, performed ballet, was in every club I could think of and traveled around the country with various extracurricular organizations and I wasn’t alone. There was even a national organization that supplemented us in the in-between: the ones who straddle two viable cultures.
We were the black children of hard working grandparents and parents who fought and dealt with difficulties that are nearly archaic to us. Our parents are relatively well-off. ‘Education first’ is the mantra. Present your best self, respect yourself, respect others, be leaders they say. We didn’t have to toil to get the beautiful things around us. Ask and we did receive. We went to the best schools and had full support of friends and family. We flowed in and out of the white culture and ours with effortless fluidity and became leaders in our predominately white activities, occupations, and institutions.
We made them comfortable. You are the “good ones”. Why aren’t all the others like you? You are the exception.
We are not the exception. We are far from the exception. We are simply a product of being lucky like them, frankly. We are simply of product of hard work and favorable conditions. I try not to get offended and brush it off with a meek smile while silently screaming in my head. What do I do? This is what scares me, the covert, unintentional racism. The racism that doesn’t know it’s racist….and I am a proponent of it…unintentionally.
I can go to the “hood” where many think all black people live and come back home. I can go into a store and not get followed or receive the side-eyed glance…most of the time. I have had exposure to multiple cultures resulting in eclectic interests and activities. I can wear my hair as nappy as I want to without anyone telling me to straighten it. (I am very lucky to not have had that happen) I am not overweight. I don’t wear kicks. I don’t wear caps. I don’t wear doo rags. I don’t wear chaotic clothing. I am not a black man. I don’t rub them the wrong way. I don’t make them uncomfortable. I am the token. I am the sprinkle of nutmeg in their eggnog. I am the sufficient amount of diversity they have and want in their life. I am the epitome of “safe”. I am the product of my environment.
Is it really like that? Us and them? Yes, this isn’t Disney. Colorblindness does not exist considering culture is alive and well and has many faces. Don’t get it twisted, though. I am far from white-washed and was raised in the rich cultures of my family but these cultures aren’t on constant display.
In regards to my own path, right now, there are significantly less black and Hispanic applicants and matriculates going to medical school. To make matters worse, there are less black men than black women doing so. So, essentially, I am the exception again. I am part of a small fraction of lucky intelligent people. This is wrong, disproportionate, and not reflective of the people who I know and have interacted with. I know for a fact that there are capable and exceptional men and women of color in large amounts, but their conditions are not conducive to what they want to do and many of them just can’t get out. You see, I am not blaming anyone. I am in no position to blame anyone.
That doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty. I hold three points of view in my head at all times: my privileged view and my black view and my female view. My Hispanic view rarely rears its head considering you can’t look Hispanic and I am ultimately treated based upon appearance first. My three predominant views fight all the time, but the one that usually dominates is my privileged view. Make no mistake, this isn’t a white viewpoint, this is a privileged viewpoint and the only time it is ever challenged is when it is uncomfortable.
Discomfort makes change. It is like, a law of nature. You have to go through discomfort to move forward whether it is work, school, or buffing it up in the gym. Things are going to be uncomfortable and that is what I would like to dispel into the universe: my acceptance of this discomfort. I want myself and others to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because at the end of the day, I am still black. I am still a woman. I am one hundred percent comfortable in my own skin and I will be everywhere as much as I can experiencing new things to my best ability and if that makes you uncomfortable, so be it. Maybe my comfort in discomfort energy will start syncing with your energy and maybe, just maybe you will grow and maybe I will, too.