By Christopher Hernandez
Who am I when I look into a mirror? This question has been haunting me lately. Over the fall break, I had the opportunity to attend a National Christian Multicultural Student Leaders Conference conference at Houghton College in Buffalo, New York.
What is “white privilege?”
I attended seminars on facilitating diversity in my college and worshipped in various languages. All in all, the experience was transforming.
The conference made me aware of issues that affect students from diverse backgrounds, and it made me aware of the issues I face as a person of color on Palm Beach Atlantic University’s campus.
The question of identity, when faced with a mirror, was brought up in a class discussing the existence of “white privilege” in America. I took the class because I was interested in knowing what people had to say about a topic that I felt was dead. When I think of white privilege, the first thing that pops into my head is the “Whites Only” signs of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Frankly, I don’t see those signs around anymore so why is discussion on white privilege relevant?
The definition of white privilege supplied by the facilitators of the discussion came from an article written by Peggy McIntosh entitled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
White privilege involves the advantages present for white people in a system or society. I understand the definition; nevertheless, aren’t we living in a society where everyone has an equal opportunity?
For some people in the group, the answer to that question was no. Even though I found it extremely hard to empathize with the girl who talked about the slavery of her people hundreds of years ago, I found the story of the African American girl who couldn’t find quality hair products that fit her hair type intriguing.
There was also the story of the girl from Thailand who came to an American private school just to become aware that she was different; she was the “Asian” girl.
Seen as a color instead of a person
When these students spoke, I felt myself slowly becoming aware of the subtle yet impactful form white privilege has in their lives, yet I couldn’t help but feel disconnected from the issue still.
I have “white” hair and was the only Latino in my graduating class yet never felt like “the Hispanic.”
A black man from Seattle Pacific University stood up and told the class that when he woke up in the morning and looked in the mirror, he was black.
He continued to say that he wanted to look in the mirror and classify himself as a poet, musician, dancer or friend, but he couldn’t.
He felt like he was the black poet, the black musician, the black dancer and the black friend. This man’s illustration brought a mirror to my face.
Looking into it, I realized the impact white privilege had on me. I don’t see myself as the Latino journalist, Latino friend or Latino student when I look into my mirror.
Instead, the mirror had a different effect on me. I saw myself as the white journalist, white friend and white student.
Personal white privilege impact
Growing up partially disconnected from my culture (never having to speak Spanish and eating predominately American food), being Hispanic has never come naturally to me.
Sure I could check the Hispanic box on the SAT and college applications, but I saw that as something I was and never something I felt.
I would say my feelings of feeling white arose because I was never put into a situation to think about my race.
For the various people around me who grew up in Mexican homes where the father drove his children to work rather than to college, who have been labeled the “black” friend, and who have watched their race negatively portrayed by the media, having never to think about race is not an option.
After getting over the initial shock of what I found in my mirror, the idea kept haunting me until a fresh idea about identity was brought up in another seminar, “Can’t I just find my identity in Jesus?”