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Checking My Privilege Does Not Mean Silence

This past summer I did an internship for social change in Hartford CT with the Hartbeat Ensemble. It was one of the most educational experiences I have ever had because for the first time, probably ever, I was one of the only white people in the room.

Growing up in a very rural town in CT, it is shocking what a homogenous childhood I had in terms of people I met. I had some awareness of this but it was not until I walked through the doors on the first day of my internship that I truly realized how blinded I had been to the lack of cultural education I was giving myself.  It was then that I truly began to learn to check my privilege. But not without a few bumps along the way.

The bulk of the work in this internship was to write a play about Institutionalized Racism in Education. Immediately I felt as if what I had to say in the conversation was useless, and that it was better that I just listen with an open ear. However, quickly what I learned is that silence can be construed many ways, and not all of them are positive.

One of my fellow collaborators brought up the excellent point in the process of creating the script, that there is a tendency to not talk about race in the hopes that doing so will make it less apparent. The effect is the reverse. As a whole, the subtle kind of institutionalized racism, the racism that hides behind fancy words and ulterior motives will only become more pervasive unless there are loud voices to expose it. And those voices have to come from all types of people. Even a white twenty-something from Connecticut.

White guilt is a wasted emotion. Guilt is not active, it is indulgent. Guilt does not help fight, it merely whines. Guilt is not our friends. Yes, I have to acknowledge that as a white woman I will receive special treatment simply because of the color of my skin. It is what I choose to do with this ‘special’ treatment that is what will make the difference. Accept it and ignore its implications? Or to question it, expose it, use it to show how it is dismantling our ability to respect and learn from the rich opportunities of learning from people who are not like us. Everyone has so much to give to each other, and yet we are choosing to ignore in an effort to remain comfortable or safe.

This is not a well polished essay or stream of thought. I am still very much in process of exploring my relationship with keeping a dialogue and also being aware of what the outside world has seen me as, and how my experience has been altered because of it. However the important part for all of us, I believe, is to make sure it is just that; a dialogue. And it cannot stop there. We have to create, we have to speak up, we have to move into action. Start with talk, but then go ahead and do something.

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