I grew up on the edge of San Jose and I went to high school at Cupertino. The school was approximately 60% Asian (this includes Indians, Russians, etc). I felt completely left out from all activities. I felt as if I actually needed to be Asian to be accepted. It was the Asians who ran the rallies, who were on Student Government. And so, ironically, I ended up bonding the most with a group of people who aren’t usually considered the minority in this country: white people. All my life my closest friends have been white. In my work with Mosaic, we talk a lot about the unearned privileges that white people have. Sometimes I am filled with a great deal of resentment when I think of these privileges. In preparation for this internship, we were required to read an essay about white privilege by Peggy McIntosh. In it, she lists forty six privileges that she has as a white woman that people of color don’t have. For example, she can virtually guarantee that her child’s teacher will have the same skin color as her. She can guarantee that she won’t be called upon to speak up for her race simply because she’s the only one in the room of that skin color. There were forty four more like this.
Reading that list made me realize for the first time that I didn’t have any of these luxuries (they are, in fact, luxuries). I never thought of myself as some sort of quantifiable privileged or unprivileged person before this. But I began to count my privileges, and I had realized that I had very few. Or so I thought I did.
Again, my work with Mosaic has made me realize so much. First and foremost, I am privileged in many many ways. I have had the luxury of growing up in the Silicon Valley. I have the luxury of staying at home, being cooked for, being laundered for. I have the privilege of belonging to the upper middle class. I have the privilege of being a cisgender heterosexual girl. I have the privilege of being sheltered. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit, my life has been relatively, uneventfully, good. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have any predicaments, but it’s not as if I have been criminalized or severely discriminated against; I can count the number of times I’ve been called a terrorist on one hand. All my teachers have been white, all my friends have been white, and they were the ones who taught me that I have nothing to worry about, that I have a bright future ahead of me. Now I’m beginning to see that the reason why they told me these types of consolations was not only because they are kind people, but because they had the privilege of thinking so positively. They never had to worry about turning on the television to see people who look like them, they never had to see a father come home, worried about losing his job, for reasons that may or may not be related to skin color. Regardless, I know now that they have a different perspective than me. One that I can never truly understand, because of the aforementioned privileges that I don’t have.
I don’t recall any specific moment that made me feel less; maybe it’s a culmination of quieter, more subtle moments. As I am writing this I am trying to think of particular incidents that made me realize that I was considered less than people in this country, but I can’t think of any. I think it’s more of the fact that I never saw myself on bill boards, movies, commercials, and literature. I never saw myself anywhere other than the mirror I looked at every morning before I went to school. So how can I think that I’m not alone in my plight? How can I not begin to feel resentment for those who do see themselves reflected back at them elsewhere?
These are the sentiments that I am trying to reconcile with my relationships with my friends. A white person did not choose their whiteness in the same way that I did not choose my color. These are the words that I constantly tell myself when I find that I am trying to communicate a complicated sentiment to my white friends. Most of the time they are understanding and caring, and I am reminded again of how they were the ones who made me who I am today. I don’t want to hold anything against them because of their skin color. If I do, then I will be projecting on to them the same narrow-mindedness that has been projected on to my father, my mother, and countless others who now feel like less for reasons beyond their own control. That is the conclusion that I have come to: that all I can do is continue to be kind, respectful, unassuming, and caring. Privilege or not,
I am in charge of very little in this world, but that’s what I choose to control.