White Privilege

With the current headlines about racism and inequality in the USA, I was reflecting on my first experience with racial inequality and what we now term, "white privilege".

I am a white female. I grew up in a predominately white area in rural Eastern Washington.  The population was white with a Hispanic minority. I did not experience overt racism at the time as it was a small town and everyone knew each other, and it seemed like we were all poor farm kids. My best friend was Mexican and we went together everywhere, she even lived with us for one summer. 

My first experience with overt racism was when I was 18 years old. I moved from my parent's farm to Savannah, Georgia to live with an upper-middle-class white family. I enrolled at Armstrong State University, now Georgia Southern University–Armstrong Campus.

It was and still is a predominately black commuter college. I was a minority but I felt comfortable on the campus. All the students were well dressed, respectful and I was only there one semester and although I did not make any close friends I interacted with all the students in a classroom setting. 

I lived in a white neighborhood, once in a while young black boys would come over to play in the yard with the children from my household and the mother would yell, "Get the N-word out of her yard!" She would not allow her two kids to play with the boys.  It was shocking as where I grew up in Washington I never heard this type of language. I did not understand why she would scream at the little boys just because of the color of their skin. She did not want her kids to play with black children. 

To earn extra money I got a job at the Red Bird Club, a private (white) country club as a cocktail waitress. The Manager who hired me was white and we had two black guys that worked in the kitchen along with one young white guy. Before we opened each evening, the entire staff would joke around and come in and out of the kitchen freely while preparing the restaurant for guests. As soon as the first patrons came in to order dinner and were seated in the restaurant, the manager said only the white cook could leave the back of the restaurant to bring the food out. The black guys were not "allowed" to be seen or come out of the back until after the last guest left the club. If we needed something from the back, like extra olives for the drinks, we had to either get it ourselves or wait for the white employee to bring it out. I asked the Manager why one of the cooks could not get me a jar of olives, and he just said the patrons did not want to see black people in the restaurant. I thought it was ridiculous that they had to stay in the kitchen due to the color of their skin. I was not raised in the deep south so what was normal there was crazy to me. 

I did not have a car, so I would often get a ride home with the Manager. A few times I got a ride home with one of the black kitchen employees, he was a nice young guy about 20 years old and drove an old Cadillac, when we would drive certain streets, he would tell me to duck my head so that other drivers could not see that he was driving in a car with a white girl. At first, I did not comply, but he said he could get pulled over but the cops if they saw me in the car with him, so I had to duck my head. It was shocking and I thought it was ridiculous that I had to ride with my bead down on the drive. He said that is just how it has to be if I was going to get a ride with him because he did not want to deal with the police. 

There were several other things that happened that exposed me to racism during the months I lived in Savannah, the main thing I realized was the racial divide and disparity.  

That was my first experience with white privilege, and for those that say there is no such thing, you are so wrong. We need a change in this country and the least I can do is share my story. 


Mom said…
Well written.

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