Walking into the classroom that Fall morning changed my life forever. I was 41 years old and going to a University to earn my first Bachelor of Science degree. As we all settled into our chairs, the professor asked us to introduce ourselves, share our pronouns, and what major we were studying. Honestly, I had no idea why pronouns were part of our introductions because I had not been in a classroom (other than my children’s) in 23 years and I had never stepped foot in a large University classroom. Being nearly twice the age of most of the students was already making me uncomfortable, and finding my way wasn’t going to be a walk in the park; I was scared out of my wits to share my life experiences with a room full of students I didn’t know.
It didn’t take long for me to discover what sharing pronouns was all about, nor did it take me long to understand the privileges I held in the world, what intersectionality was and how people can hold some privileged identities and some marginalized identities simultaneously. Everything about that class changed my life, and I especially remember the day that my professor had us lay our heads on our desk with our eyes closed while reading the statements in Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, asking us to track how many of them we didn’t identify with.
That was my first lesson in white privilege; I grew up in the country surrounded by white people. The only black person I knew had been adopted by a white family. It never dawned on me until that day how much different my life was than for people of color. I was sad, angry, and felt completely helpless; how could I live for 41 years and be so naïve? For many white people, the initial reaction is to become defensive and stop listening. If it had been a mere 4 years earlier in my life, I probably would have dismissed it entirely. That is a hard pill for me to swallow now, as a social worker, but one that I am so grateful for.
We are socialized into racism in the United States; from the day a person is born, regardless of their skin color, that person will be shaped by the systems that are firmly in place to create power differentials and influence the way we walk through the world. Patriarchal systems are tough to tear down, but it is slowly happening, and my hope is that one day we will all honor one another for the beautiful differences we have. Just imagine how boring it would be if we clones of one another. Celebrate diversity, immerse yourself in other cultures, and do your “Google’s” before you ask a person to represent an entire group of people simply because you are curious about something.
Hand in hand and heart to heart, we can find one another.