Writer examines white privilege from own perspective

By: Bradley Petrella – Sophomore,
International Studies and Spanish

I appreciate Kwynn and her sentiments and the others who have shared their thoughts over the last year. It shows that all of these people care about the university. My purpose in writing this is to share an additional perspective in the hopes that it will advance this dialogue and ultimately benefit the UD community.

I believe I understand Kwynn’s feelings and points, as a white person coming to terms with my own privilege, perhaps I can bring some perspective and relatability to the points brought up in Kwynn’s article. The first time I was introduced to the concept of white privilege, I wasn’t quite sure what to think, and I was resistive to the idea that I had, and will continue to have, advantages in life, or perhaps the lack of disadvantages in some cases, just because of my skin color. Hearing such an idea can feel like an unsubstantiated personal attack on my identity and my world view: two fragile subjects. As humans, we want to be right, not wrong, so when I had to consider that the beliefs I had grown up with might not be the full reality, it was mind-wrenching and paralyzing at times. How much easier it is to simply dismiss challenges and continue with a view of the world that seems to be working well for me as an individual!

I had grown up hearing that a person’s circumstances do not determine their fate, and while this can ultimately be true, I forgot that one’s background remains consequential to one’s life’s path. I used to think about how when I was a child, the concept of “race” didn’t seem to exist to me. Different people looked different, but I didn’t necessarily question why. Not too long ago, I used to think: “Why are we still talking about race as a society – it seems to be a construct, a harmful one, not reality. Wouldn’t it be better if we acted unaware as children, followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, and simply ignored skin color?”

Through learning about privilege and people’s identities, I came to realize that race is an indelible trait of human beings; not one from which to shy away. Though a person’s skin color does not constitute their identity in itself, it helps to form it. It is respectful to a person to recognize their skin color as a natural characteristic of who they are. Race is something that should be embraced, not shamed, which is why the true purpose of understanding white privilege is not to feel disliked or bad, but to understand how the physical trait of fair skin affects one’s life situations and interactions. In turn, the hope is that this greater awareness will increase understanding of the perspectives and situations of those not considered “white.”

In order for a white person to grasp the concept of white privilege, one must resist the temptation to immediately defend one’s own position from a supposed attack. Then, it can best be visualized by considering the perspective of someone not considered white. Someone without this classification is a minority in the United States, and especially on UD’s campus. Thus, try to imagine what it would be like to live in a world in which you don’t look like most of the art, pop culture and leaders you grow up seeing–the image discretely presented as the societal norm?

It’s important to keep in mind the status of those not included in the definition of the majority. What if you represent a minority group with different historical cultural practices than those you commonly encounter every day like on UD’s campus?

Starting along this path of thought will help to explain why those identified as racial minorities are not always appeased, let alone satisfied, to hear whites say they are completely welcoming and never discriminate. This good intention by whites seems to imply that the other person will be treated just as if they were one of the white’s pre-existing group, but this fails to recognize the full personhood of the other. The minority person is not respected and treated with understanding for who they are as being a distinct individual from a unique background. This applies not just for people of different skin colors but to people of all kinds of differences.

Better understanding of others’ situations applies to the use of the word “ghetto” to describe our student neighborhood. While I have heard disputes about the neighborhood’s history dating back to the NCR days and don’t have a full knowledge of it myself, I don’t see history as being the crucial factor in determining the name of our neighborhood.

History can still be taught and preserved even if terms, symbols and/or institutions aren’t widely present or in use today. However, I think it’s a given that the neighborhood’s name will be whatever is most popularly used, and it seems near impossible for a word to be censored out of use. Instead, we must consider how the use of the word “ghetto” may affect others and could potentially minimize sensitivity to and awareness of issues in more appropriately named modern and historical ghettos. Though word meanings change over time, language has immense power. Would we be perpetuating a word like “ghetto” if members of our community had been implicated as victims or perpetrators in some of the horrific tales of ghettos in history? I’m confident we can discern a more accurate, positive label for our university’s most cherished example of community.

The adjustments available to us are ones of greater consideration and intentionality in both word choice and actions. If we claim and desire to be a true community, then the concerns and well-being of the entire community should be taken seriously. Every individual wish cannot be accommodated–such is given in a “communal” setting. However, it’s harmful to all when individuals’ ideas are suppressed without full understanding and consideration. Doing so will lead to greater misunderstanding among community members and could cause frustration to fester, resulting in greater conflict.

I am interested in putting aside self-satisfaction and being fully attentive to others in order to make our community a more welcoming joy to all. I hope each of you, my fellow Flyers, feel the same.

If you want to submit an op-ed or write a column for Flyer News, email FlyerNewsEditor@gmail.com or Opinions Editor Steven Goodman at goodmans1@udayton.edu.

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