I have been going to college since I was 18, one class at a time between, pregnancies, marriage, sickness, divorce and other life experiences. In my educational career I had a definite turning point after taking a class called Ethnic Minority Families. This class was an eye opener.
Before taking this course, I was very conscious of the situations and history of minority families in the United States but I always leaned towards the idea that progress was being made and that we needed to stop complaining and begin putting our struggles into action.
I joined this class because I wanted to learn how to articulate my consciousness with theories, words and accurate vocabulary. I convinced Isaac, my husband now, to take the class with me. After taking this course, I became more conscious of how careful I need to be to articulate my ideas, experiences and feelings. I began to feel oppression that I did not think still existed. I started to understand the experiences and feelings that Isaac and many others had felt. I began to internalize every subject that was discussed. I felt anger that I had never felt before because I was finally able to validate my feelings, experiences and encounters with white privilege.
When our class began, we wrote a paper on our ethnic background where I emphasized my mother had been the foundation of my consciousness. I can safely say, that my consciousness has been based on love and understanding for people, as well as, empathy and courage to stand for those that are being trampled. I have always felt privileged, even though my family has never been rich or close to it. My father has worked hard to provide for us. We have encountered hardships, many of them. My mother has always sheltered our eyes and lightened our loads with love and respect. I think that is one of the main reasons why this class and its participants where such a shock for me.
Any time I spoke in class, I analyzed what I was going to say. I had never felt so conscious of how much I represented my ethnicity, which usually was defined by others. I have always been very independent. I decide my fate and who I am, how I dress, what music I listen to, etc. I still am that individual, but in this class I realized I am also just a Latino woman. I represent to an overly essentialist world, what I look like. In many cases, I have to counter pre-judgments, and generalizations that have been attached to me before I speak, write, or turn in an assignment.
I remember Isaac always talking about these feelings, I remember specifically telling him, "well everyone is always nice to me, no matter if they are white or brown, most teachers like me, and I think it's because I turn my work in on time, or because I write well". I began to questions those feelings, is it really because of that, or is it because my white professors don't want to seem racist by telling me the truth about my opinions or theirs. I recalled times when I had been tokenized and used as a good example of my ethnicity.
I remembered hearing, "yea but you are different from the rest". I finally understood what they meant. I was not what they knew about Latinos, I was closer to what they accepted because they assumed minority was negative and whiteness what positive, that was their privilege speaking.
During class one day, one of the other students of color said, she internalized everything she heard there and that she left class each day and talked about it with her husband. I heard this same comment coming from the white students the day after Isaac had an outburst. That day I heard more honest feelings and truth than I had all class periods. I think it had to do with the fact that Isaac was honest. He said what he felt and everyone could feel his anger, but we had all done this all semester long, we had all shared what we felt but we were nice and collected about it. Many of the students admitted they had never even addressed the class after they left it until that day. This was a huge realization for me, I understood the meaning of oppressive anger, I understood the anger of the LA riots, the civil rights movement, the beginning of gangs, even of the woman's suffrages and rights movement.
I saw flashbacks of all the good things, the peaceful attitudes, the submissiveness of my parents and their parents, my uncles, my aunts, Dr Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez. I saw their peaceful rebellions and I compared them to the counter stories we had shared as ethnic minorities in the class. I paralleled it to our composure, even though many of us felt much of the information given was outdated, incorrect or stereotypical.
There were side comments, even comments from the instructor that were completely offensive to many of us. Some of us even went home and cried or cried during class. But until the day Isaac had an outburst and many people felt their safety threatened, many in the class did not have any true realizations. He made them feel how we had felt all semester in a couple of minutes.
From this, I learned that there is time for talk, peaceful unity and there is also time for action, real action, which threatens white privilege. I say this because shockingly the biggest thing I realized from this class is that this is a country of white privilege, and I am a non-white trying to make it. In the real world today I will need to appeal to the white majority to have majority success. I must argue my points and I must prepare twice as hard. I must do this to have the same success as someone who has a backpack of prepared assets, a map and stepping stones. My children who have no control of what ethnicity they are born into are expected to assimilate to have majority progress.
That is one quality I feel that many ethnic minorities have been forced to have. We have to adapt and our minds, feelings and ideals can fluctuate to accommodate a changing world. I am grateful for that. I have a deeper love for the struggles of other minorities in this country. I feel connected to those struggles, their tears and our similarities. I understand that the reason we should learn about our history, our past and of negative things that continue to happen, is so that we can create more choices.
I feel that this class helped me personally bridge many gaps with other people of color and with white people too; the white people who can acknowledge their white privilege and unite in the struggle to break it down. I don't think internalizing every negative comment, stereotype, or joke will make me stronger. To the contrary, it will make me bitter and depressed.
Since taking that class, I have consciously allowed many micro aggressions to slide for the greater good. I have worked on creating choices by remembering these and working against them. I have created discussions that are fruitful and non-confrontational, and that serve the purpose of the true deconstruction of whiteness and its ramifications. I will continue being a part of organizations where I can personally bring consciousness to those that have not acquired it and at the same time continue to appreciate my culture. Most importantly, I will raise my children to become beacons of truth. I will allow them to learn and to ask, to gain knowledge and to give knowledge as people of color. I will empower them with the strength to fight for righteousness and like my mother taught me I will also teach them love for their culture, understanding & empathy for people, and courage to stand for those that are being trampled.