How can I use this privilege?

Susan Nappi,
Middlebury, CT

It is interesting to me that when I am asked for six words about race my heart becomes heavy. I am a middle-aged white woman. For a long while, I resisted the notion that I could be privileged. I felt anything but this. I grew up working poor in a severely traumatized family. I thought that meant I understood the trauma experienced by POC. It didn’t. I thought it meant I wasn’t privileged. It didn’t. Even though I was first gen with no one to guide me through college/graduate school, no one else knew this. I was insecure and uncomfortable but was able to choose what I shared about my identity. My life was a legacy that began with my Italian immigrant great grandparents who chose to come here of their own free will, were able to change their name to ‘pass’ as Americans, and build a better life for subsequent generations. They, too, were able to choose what they shared about their identity and bypass many of the discriminatory barriers against Italians during that time. This is not so of many other immigrants who come to this country. When I choose “colorblindedness” over acknowledgment of someone’s identity it means I wash away the experience of those who continue to be marginalized because of it. I believe our country can only be healed when we collectively acknowledge that much of what we enjoy today was built on the backs of slaves and that we have created laws and systems that continue to oppress generations of people. The way I do this is by not being afraid to examine my own beliefs and understand where I am privileged. I have to ask myself how can I use the privilege I have not earned to be of service for all? How can I stop perpetuating this suffering? I do this by looking at who is the room at the tables I sit, move aside for others, and seek to make connections to resources and opportunities for those who are not represented where I work and live. I know it is a lifelong journey to be present and honest and move beyond fear. I am hopeful that many are opening up like this.

 

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