As anyone who reads my columns regularly knows, race is a very important issue to me. This past summer, I was intrigued as The New York Times ran a series of 15 articles entitled "How Race is Lived in America." And I am equally glad that The Daily Pennsylvanian has launched a two-week investigation of race issues on campus. But the most interesting issues to me are those not explored. The Times series focused on personal stories, neglecting the structural racism and racial inequity that exist in America. And both the Times and the DP to date have ignored the matter of white privilege. White privilege comprises all of the advantages that whites obtain in society solely on the basis of their skin color. Many of these are things that don't happen, such as not being stopped by the police, like a black person might. These non-experiences preclude many whites from understanding the everyday burdens that people of color encounter. As a result, whites are typically not even conscious of the privileges they usually take for granted. An example I learned in one of my classes highlights the issue of white privilege. Unbeknownst to most, there are a significant number of illegal immigrants from Romania who come to the United States across the Mexican border. Why? Because the border patrol does not even bother to check their papers. Its officers are busy looking for Mexican illegal immigrants, and the Romanians know that their skin color -- the marker of white privilege -- will allow them to cross the border unnoticed. White privilege derives from the fact that whites have the power to make all decisions of importance in America. Even political gains made by people of color -- such as civil rights and affirmative action -- had to be sanctioned by elite white men. And white privilege extends benefits to all white people, including Romanian illegal immigrants who have no special power except their skin color. One article in the DP series ("A brotherhood of homogeneity," 11/30/00), explores Greek life on campus and illustrates another facet of white privilege -- the ability to define the terms of integration. This article only explores why people of color do not join predominantly white fraternities. Although the article discusses the Bicultural InterGreek Council -- the umbrella group for black, Latino and Asian-American fraternities and sororities -- it does not ask why whites do not routinely join BIG-C fraternities. After all, that too is integration. In recent years, when there have been housing shortages on campus, many white students were placed in DuBois College House. While some loved the experience and returned, a number were appalled by the prospect of living in a predominantly black dormitory. Many of their parents called the housing office before move-in, claiming vehemently that their white sons and daughters would feel uncomfortable as the minority. But black students can experience the same discomfort anywhere on campus, except perhaps in DuBois. And in most classes and campus activities, they have no choice but to be a minority. Whites, however, usually do not have to face this discomfort. Nor are they expected to bear the burden of integration; minority students are expected to come to them. Whites who are truly interested should actively seek out student of color institutions and deal with their fear of being in the minority. Otherwise, they are merely asserting their white privilege, which is at the heart of American racism. Although I did pose the question, I would not advocate for the full integration of DuBois, the BIG-C or any other institution for students of color. While I fully encourage people of all ethnicities to participate in their programs, black, Latino and Asian-American groups provide some of the few spaces on campus where these students are not in the minority. However, in many cases, the benefits of interaction between diverse groups of people are tremendous. And I think that students of all ethnicities should come together and talk about issues of race. But the idea of white privilege must be part of this conversation. Although often taken for granted, race is also an issue for whites. And the first type of integration that must take place is the integration of privilege and power.Comments powered by Disqus
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