White Folks Facing Race: Self-Awareness of Privilege

[This is part of my White Folks Facing Race series, originally written on October 3, 2019 to an email group created for community members in the Washington, DC area.]

Hi Friends!

I’d like to engage each of you with a personal exercise, please. This group is designed to encourage its members to follow a process of self-awareness to self-work to advocacy, with the expectation of lifelong learning. As part of the self-awareness and self-work pieces, I would like you to consider the many ways in which you, as an individual, experience privilege or marginalization (adapted from the Privilege Walk). Please consider the following statements and track your points (+ or -) for each statement:

- If you are right-handed, add a point.
- If English is your first language, add a point.
- If one or both of your parents have a college degree, add a point.
- If you can find Band-Aids at mainstream stores designed to blend in with or match your skin tone, add a point.
- If you rely, or have relied, primarily on public transportation, subtract a point.
- If you have attended previous schools with people you felt were like yourself, add a point.
- If you constantly feel unsafe walking alone at night, subtract a point.
- If your household employs help as servants, gardeners, etc., add a point.
- If you are able to move through the world without fear of sexual assault, add a point.
- If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, add a point.
- If you often feel that your parents are too busy to spend time with you, subtract a point.
- If you were ever made fun of or bullied for something you could not change or was beyond your control, subtract a point.
- If your family has ever left your homeland or entered another country not of your own free will, subtract a point.
- If you would never think twice about calling the police when trouble occurs, add a point.
- If your family owns a computer, add a point.
- If you have ever been able to play a significant role in a project or activity because of a talent you gained previously, add a point.
- If you can show affection for your romantic partner in public without fear of ridicule or violence, add a point.
- If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food, subtract a point.
- If you feel respected for your academic performance, add a point.
- If you have a physically visible disability, subtract a point.
- If you have an invisible illness or disability, subtract a point.
- If you were ever discouraged from an activity because of race, class, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, subtract a point.
- If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to fit in more, subtract a point.
- If you have ever been profiled by someone else using stereotypes, subtract a point.
- If you feel good about how your identities are portrayed by the media, add a point.
- If you were ever accepted for something you applied to because of your association with a friend or family member, add a point.
- If your family has health insurance, add a point.
- If you have ever been spoken over because you could not articulate your thoughts fast enough, subtract a point.
- If someone has ever spoken for you when you did not want them to do so, subtract a point.
- If there was ever substance abuse in your household, subtract a point.
- If you come from a single-parent household, subtract a point.
- If you live in an area with crime and drug activity, subtract a point.
- If someone in your household suffered or suffers from mental illness, subtract a point.
- If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, subtract a point.
- If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, subtract a point.
- If you are never asked to speak on behalf of a group of people who share an identity with you, add a point.
- If you can make mistakes and not have people attribute your behavior to flaws in your racial or gender group, add a point.
- If you have always assumed you’ll go to college, add a point.
- If you have more than fifty books in your household, add a point.
- If your parents have told you that you can be anything you want to be, add a point.
If you want to, add up your points. Starting from 0, the possible range is from -19 to +21.

Allow yourself to sit with your feelings after doing this exercise. This often brings up very complex and often unpleasant realizations. The point is to improve our understanding both of privilege and marginalization, particularly because most of the things on this list are not things individual people have control over for themselves. How can you take this knowledge and apply it to the way in which you interact with people and function in the world around you? You obviously don’t have to share with the group, but if you want to, or if you want to process your thoughts with me (either in person or by phone), please reach out. Self-awareness and self-work never ends. Engaging with the work means that you can do something about it.

As a supplemental exercise, write down all of the ways in which your self-awareness and self-work have empowered you to speak up about injustice/inequity. It could be reading books with characters of color in them to your white children, speaking at a School Board meeting about something that doesn’t directly affect you in support of marginalized groups, joining a group in which you are a minority, telling a friend/neighbor about something you read in one of my weekly updates… so many possibilities. If you’re willing, share them with me! I’d love to hear about what you’re doing, big, small, or otherwise. Remember that self-work is important work — if you’re not to the advocacy stage yet, it’s fine, just keep going!

- Income inequality is the highest it has been since 1967.
- Jews of color are speaking out as the High Holidays begin.
- An update to the Loudoun County schools racism issues.
- Related to the Felicity Huffman sentence and using privilege to help our kids (and thereby exacerbating disadvantage experienced by others). From the editor: “So, we don’t need people to feel bad about having advantages, but rather using all that they have to fundamentally change this society.”
- “Not in My Neighbourhood” film about citizens and their rights, from colonization to gentrification, across three continents.
- The Oakland NAACP Education Committee is advocating for literacy to be at the front of our education efforts.
- I think I have linked to this before, but if bears reminding — racially diverse schools and classrooms benefit all students.
- From a group member, the National Education Policy Center published a paper called “White Fragility. What it Looks Like in Schools.
- Kudos to APS for its statement this week on being welcoming and open to ALL students.
- Public libraries are eliminating their overdue book fines to increase equitable access.

- Challenging Racism has opened up several training opportunities — check them out!
- SURJ NoVa is hosting an Indigenous Peoples’ Day Teach-In on October 6 from 7–9 pm in Oakton.
- VACOLAO is hosting an information session with an update on the Public Charge Rule and other immigration updates on October 15 from 10–11:30 am in Arlington.
- Sorry this is late notice, but there’s a Housing Matters Forum tonight from 6:30–8:30 pm in Arlington about housing discrimination.

Thank you for your continued work and engagement with this process. It is hard work and it is worth doing.

Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Mom, Activist, Community Organizer