To My College Students:
Editors Note: A guest post by Ampleforth.
Everyday you hear that you will have something stacked against you as you embark on your career- a difficult job market, problems connecting with people at work because you are a Millennial or iGen, or even difficulty interviewing because younger generations may face more social anxiety that previous generations.
One story you will be told in this transition from young adulthood into your careers is that some people are succeeding because of privilege- specifically white privilege. If you are white, you might start to feel like you have done something wrong. If you aren’t white, this narrative might make you resentful of white people. What this discussion of white privilege will not do is help people better understand each other.
Your Skin Color is Not Your Story.
I have taught community college for almost a decade. I’ve taught students from countries and cultures around the world. What does white privilege mean to Dimitri from Russia who is over 60 years old? He immigrated to the U.S. for opportunity and to help his family. When modern America looks at him, does he have white privilege- this man who stood in bread lines?
To my many students who struggle everyday to relate to the world because they are somewhere on the spectrum, do they have privilege because most of them are white?
Many veterans of all colors take my classes. Some have PTSD and have shared with me their struggle with suicidal thoughts. White people seem to be facing a bigger battle with suicide than other races with 7/10 suicides being committed by whites. Does white privilege matter in that case?
To the students I’ve taught who have told me their heartbreaking stories of living in Africa and watching their family be killed in civil wars and religious conflict, they are thinking of the privilege it is to be free and in the United States. Some are very successful now. Did their struggle give them a different kind of privilege- a privilege of character training?
Every student is unique. Every student has a story. And that story is bigger than the color of their skin. To group students by color is to deny their individuality and individual experience.
The discussion of white privilege will not help you personally succeed.
Lastly, I want to encourage you that to focus on what any other group has that you don’t, will not further your own success, whether that is race, sex, or any other group. The big civil rights issues in our country are settled. (Let’s get real. Women are just now driving in Saudi Arabia.)
Whites have been the dominant race in our country. There is no denying that because it’s history. But we know that’s demographically changing. It will take time to see people of all shapes and sizes in all positions of power. What furthers your own success is not focusing outward but inward. If you are always looking at the lack, you will miss the abundance, living in a constant state of pessimism and self-fulfilling prophecy.
Focus inward, what do you really want? What strengths do you possess? Who are my heroes who look like me and have my background?
The discussion of privilege looks like two siblings pointing out what the other has more of. Try to push past this human tendency and succeed because of who you are inside.