What can YOU do?

Some thoughts on the events of this week. Not totally related to college, but I wanted to share it anyway.

I’ve been thinking about white privilege a lot lately, for obvious reasons. My thoughts come from a place of pride in my background and an appreciation of how my parents and grandparents worked hard for years to give me a safe and loving childhood. They don’t reflect any personal feelings of guilt; just some ideas about the randomness of life and our power over chance. I don’t think I’m a racist person, but I think that race and power structures might have had an impact on my life at some point. I’m raising my children to care for people who aren’t like them and I’m proud to see that they’re tolerant and kind-hearted. But I don’t know if that’s enough anymore.

This post is not specifically about police brutality, gun control, immigration, terrorism, the EU, mental health funding, whose life matters more than another, or any number of specific issues that have been on the news lately. This post is about more fundamental things like what are our responsibilities to each other as humans.

I understand that being born white has made my life better in a lot of ways than many people. Aside from some snide comments from a few sexist jerks I’ve encountered, in general I have led a life of opportunity, fair treatment, and safety. When I see police officers in my town, they’re the people who help my kids cross the street after school or the people who run the bike rodeo. At their most annoying (and this truly is a trifle), they’re the people who sit along the frontage road just over Route 94 in Northfield waiting for me to drive above 35 mph. What I never see, and I know this is because of where I live and what I look like, is a threat.

By listening to the experiences of others, I’m learning that that comfort in itself is a privilege. And I’m rendered speechless by that random luck of the draw. I’m guessing that I’d feel very different driving my kids home at night up Sheridan Road through Wilmette and Kenilworth if he and I had different skin color.

So instead of feeling powerless and thinking “sure, the world sucks but what can I do?”, I’m looking at my skills and talents and thinking about how I can use them. I’m not so arrogant to think that little old me can fix the problems of racism, poverty, education, addiction, and hatred all by myself. But I can’t sit around and do nothing.

I’m issuing a challenge to people out there. We all have something to give. And I’m not talking about just sending a check to some random charity. I’m talking about getting out there. What do you have that you got — at least partially — because of the random coincidence of the life you were born into? How can you share it with people who might not have had that good luck? If we benefit from white privilege — and I think we do — how can we share those benefits with those who suffer from it?

I’ll go first. As a college counselor, I usually work with kids who already have lots and lots of advantages. They have families who value education and who have the means to live in a town with great schools or pay for private school tuition. They have the means to travel the world and join every sport possible. They have technology at their fingertips. They have the money to hire me. And they deserve my help. But there are plenty of kids with just as many dreams and talents who are stuck in crummy schools — through no fault of their own or their families. Those kids deserve a chance too. I’m calling the YMCA today to volunteer with their teen program. I’m going to offer free college counseling to the kids who go there. College isn’t the only way out, but education changed my life for the better. It’s something I can do right now.

How about you?


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