“Processing my Expanding White Awareness Study Group Experience” from Michael Cotey

In Assistantship, Directing, Education, Human Resources, Uncategorized on May 10, 2017 at 6:27 AM

IMG_1480For four weeks now I’ve been attending the Expanding White Awareness Study Group. As part of the curriculum we are given a rather large study packet and then weekly a small group of us who identify as white get together to talk through the things we had read or watched that week. To give you an idea of some of the material, we’ve read Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack among many other seminal texts on the subject of whiteness, defining words like “white privilege” and “white supremacy” and “white fragility” along the way. In many ways, this feels like a conversation I’ve avoided having for the past three years. Since going to Northwestern (and certainly in conjunction with a more visible rise in tension, violence, and awareness) the concept of ‘whiteness’ has been something I’ve suddenly had to think about. The fact that there is a group of 6-7 to us sitting around every Tuesday speaking openly about our whiteness would have been unimaginable to me less than five weeks ago, not to mention three years ago. And I have found this conversation difficult because essentially it feels like an “Oz behind the curtain” moment. For instance, when Peggy McIntosh draws attention to the fact that she “can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of [her] race” I begin to understand just how easy it is to take for granted all those things I don’t have to think about. 

My life is not a series of obstacles and roadblocks in the way it is on a daily basis for others. I think my resistance prior to this course about thinking about myself as privileged is equating that to advantaged among other white folks. I like the analogy one of the fellow study group members used: it’s like being an athlete and learning that there are performance enhancing drugs pumping through your body without you knowing it, giving you an unbalanced advantage. I struggle at times to know what to do with that knowledge. On the very basic level it’s helped me start to see my own life through a slightly different lens. I feel it’s helped me value gratefulness and acknowledge my own luck of upbringing and circumstance. I’m sad that this study group is coming to an end, but I’m grateful to have had this experience.


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