Sarah G. is interning with Sadie Nash Leadership Project this summer.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal privilege and how it shapes my perception of the world. As one of two white girls in my office, I’ve been confronted with my race for the first time.
I’ve never really considered being white as a significant part of my identity. That sounds kind of silly, but for most of my life race has been a complete non-issue, so I never spent much time thinking about it. Growing up, this translated to me being very much oblivious to race as a factor in any situation. Because I wasn’t really aware of how my race influenced my life, I was also blind as to how it shaped the experiences of other people. My ignorance has whittled away with the years – especially since I’ve been in college – but it wasn’t until I found myself as the obvious minority that I really began to examine how race shapes who we are and how we interact with other people.
Recently we had a particularly heavy conversation at work in which many of my coworkers – who identify with various racial and ethnic minorities – spoke candidly of their experiences with white people. The overwhelming majority of these were negative. I found myself feeling acutely guilty, and embarrassed – which I realized wasn’t exactly fair – but mostly I wondered how I could work my undeniable privilege to my advantage as I become more involved in the feminist movement.
The truth is, I’m not really sure how I can do that.
Does being white and upper class automatically render me unable to meaningfully contribute to the movement? I hope not, but I think the first thing I need to do is really understand that I do come from a position of enormous privilege, and that though I can’t necessarily relate to certain experiences of other people, it doesn’t mean that I can’t respect those experiences and try to take the resources that are available to me and channel them towards contributing to social change. I’ve been thinking a lot about the excerpts from Manifesta and Grassroots that we read, and the idea that we should use the resources we have access to rather than try to utilize resources we don’t have really resonated with me. As a white college-aged girl, there are certain resources I have – like knowledge of social media and connections to older and wealthier people – and there are certain resources that I don’t have.
Rather than try to be someone I’m not, or feel bad for being who I am, I should recognize the power and privilege that I do have, and go from there. If I can do that, and also respect the power and privilege of others, I think I’ll be on the right track towards productive, active feminism.