Entering the Ring: Facing my White Privilege

Experiencing the truth is rarely a pretty affair. There is something about truth that isn’t real in words, thoughts, and ideas, but is only true when you come face to face, shoulder to shoulder in a struggle to overcome or suppress it. In the past three weeks of this fellowship, I have become entangled possibly for the first time in my life with the beast of white privilege. My white privilege. It is something I have acknowledged in the past, and I have known that it something I possess and must recognize. But my eyes are finally opening to the impact of privilege, in ways more tactile than theoretical.

One lesson that has really stuck with me happened out on Painted Turtle Farm. Nothing drastic or dramatic occurred, but rather it was in the chaos of child’s play. Seeing that white children out on the farm chose more often to cling to college students or make demands in the games that would be played, while the children of the immigrant families were often quiet in their opinions, playing along or simply playing with one another. There were no malicious intentions, simply privilege at work. The white children are children of college staff. They have opportunities to regularly interact with college students, as playmates rather than as tutors or “givers.” Although I’m certain their parents have done a great job at raising children who are aware and have encouraged integration with their peers, the segregation of play and of leadership is still expressed. It has made me wonder how this plays out in the classroom, especially in a college town such as ours. How do the children of academics and professionals interact with their peers, who are children of farm and factory workers? Is anyone encouraging the leadership development of the kids lacking on the side of privilege? What is being done to secure and edify their self-confidence? It was never something I considered, until this past week. And now thoughts of the injustices of how privilege is portioned out are plaguing me. When in my past have I unknowingly oppressed through my actions and interactions?

As part of my summer fellowship I am working with Dr. Amy Dailey of the Health Science department on the very beginning stages of a community based research project, which will more than likely focus on the migrant/immigrant community. Our talks have easily fallen into what we think is wrong in our community, what we think should be done, and what community organizations are doing and can be doing. These discussions happen, due to our position of  privilege. But we are also beginning to challenge ourselves, especially at this early stage of research to understand and contemplate our privilege and the role that plays in community-based research. I am struggling with a moral dilemma, of what right do I have to research the lives of others and what responsibility do I have to utilize my privilege to help amplify the voices of those who were not gifted the same privileges as I?  Our intentions are good, but what good is our research if it only turns peoples lives into experiments or it only results in academic gain? There is no good in that, I assure you. So then, we ask, how can we use our privilege and our ability to carry out research in a way that is truly edifying for this community and that elevates their triumphs, concerns, and interests into the light? I’m not sure we’ll get it right. I’m sure we’ll fail many times along the way, clouded by our privilege. But now that I’ve entered the ring, I’m not giving up. Not until the fight has been won.

Alyce Norcross ’17