a student-run publication that seeks to provide space for voices that are not being heard on our campus. we are grounded by politics that are radical, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist, and anti-transphobic (against all forms of oppression) and that reject the structural neo-liberal paradigm that characterizes middlebury college and its official publications
by Alexis Levato
Who are you? Look at yourself. When I look in the mirror I see my visible and invisible identities. I see that I am a womyn with blonde hair and dark eyes, and white. I also see that I am an activist, a womynist, and that I have opinions. When I look at others, I can’t identify these things until I start asking questions.
When you walk into a space you bring yourself, with politics and biases with you. Quickly, you will project them onto other people you come into contact with, without considering the individual. You remain the viewer and not the viewed. Unless, of course, people act on their perceptions of you. Then you become aware of your being viewed, its impact on how you view yourself.
I once walked into a thrift shop in gentrified Wicker Park (white hipsters recently overtook the formerly latinx community and changed bodegas into overpriced coffee shops, where white college graduates feel free to tell people of color how they should live) with a tall, lanky, African American friend. He had a backpack with him, and I a purse. Where he had an MIT class ring, I had nothing. Where he had a gold necklace, I had a single rose quartz stone.
We began to look through the shirts, when a worker walked up to my friend, and asked to keep his bag behind the counter. Now, this is typical of thrift shops and bookstores, and is a way to combat stealing. The problem; he was the only African American in a store full of white gentrifiers, and the only humyn being she asked to hand over their bag. In fact, there was a white male standing next to my friend at the time, with a backpack, that never entered into the uncomfortable interaction that my friend was forced to. This was an action that became an accusation because of her perception of the “typical” African American Fox News male.
Immediately after, we talked about her action and we both weren’t sure what to do. I encouraged my friend to speak up and tell her about her wrongdoing. He chose not to. I too said nothing. If the me today were to witness this, I would have. I find that, after engaging in conversations and hearing experiences, I have often seen how difficult it is to speak up in response to these actions. I feel empowered to speak up because I am not the person being discriminated against, and feel as those someone has to identify these issues, even if they seem relatively small. As a white ally, I am comfortable identifying these issues and speaking up about them.
She could be the most politically correct humyn being in the world, but her conscious (or unconscious) biases came across in this action. The fact is you will act in accordance with what you are taught until you question yourself, what you carry with you, and your actions. You will perpetuate a culture that you have learned until you consciously take in what you have been conditioned (consciously or subconsciously) to think, get uncomfortable instead of complacent, and ask for the full story. By this, I mean question your view of the individuals, as well as the real reasons for your actions.
When I was younger I used see these people being painted as “other,” as “not white”. People in my white family would have acted similarly to the store worker, because they were standing in their comfortable privileged Levi’s. However, I grew up in a space and school that was occupied by many people of color. These spaces were unique because I knew them as individuals, not as one lumped together “other.” These people were not their race, their money, or their neighborhood; they were themselves, their interests, and their passions. In places where people of color don’t function as equals within a shared space (numerically or vocally), these people become the “other” of the room, of our campus.
I used to feel uneasy when people talked about white privilege because it felt like an accusation, and that’s not me I thought. I don’t have money; my family never really did, so how could I be privileged? Then I saw it. I saw it on the CTA, in thrift shops, and different Chicago communities. I walk into a space and women don’t clutch their purses tightly to their bodies because my skin is light (part of this might be because I am a female as well). That is a privilege. I don’t see images of myself shot repeatedly by people with authority. That is a privilege. I don’t feel fear when I see cops roll down the street. I don’t feel like I can’t speak up and be taken seriously. I don’t have people assume that I am uneducated, ignorant, and lesser. I won’t get pulled over, harassed and bullied into consenting to search. I am not afraid that a cop is going to shoot me, even if I don’t follow their demands. I am not afraid of being given unfairly trumped up jail time because I “look like a criminal.” I am not afraid that the whole system is against me, and my people. This is my privilege. Do you know what yours is?
Now when I hear white privilege being tossed around I understand that privilege isn’t just money; it is so much more than that. It is access to resources, upward mobility, and toilet paper in your school. It is living in a neighborhood that hasn’t been constructed to ensure failure. There is a systematic way that these groups are oppressed; institutions like capitalism perpetuate this, as does environmental racism, urban planning and subsequently educational segregation, and lack of access to food and other essential resources. (This of course isn’t the case for every single person of color, but these are the conditions for a massive amount of people.)
There is nothing normative about our norms for people that are systematically viewed as lesser. Our norms mean nothing outside of the white race because we unconsciously perceive ourselves to be on another, higher level of society that includes being entitled to a specific life, a life that is known to the world as exclusively ours.
Next time you encounter someone, anyone, know your biases and question them. Know that you are projecting an image of a whole race onto one humyn being and misunderstanding that they are an individual with thoughts and feelings and so much more than you might perceive them as. Know that, not only are you projecting images that media and institutions have taught you onto others, you are also misunderstanding and misrepresenting the circumstances of their lives in your judgment and actions.
Know yourself and what you carry with you.