After 15 minutes of answering questions such as “How often are you reminded about being the race with which you identify?” and “How often have you wondered if your race negatively impacted a job interview, a grade, a confrontation with a co-worker or a friend?” I was said to have white privilege. Now why am I taking this quiz in an English class again?
I had to admit, this wasn’t what I expected when I signed up for the course “Voices of America.” Maybe I didn’t read the description closely enough, but I had envisioned a straight-forward survey of widely read American writers. Far from it. It didn’t take long for me to realize that what I thought was going to be a study in literature full of essay writing assignments was actually going to be a discussion-based course on social topics concerning our nation.
The more I thought about the spin the class was taking, the more sense it began to make. From the very beginning, America has been made up of a very opinionated society—it’s why we have freedom of speech. Such freedom is now being used more than ever as voices from all classes, faiths, and ethnicities share their stories and experiences more freely through books, movies, and other public media and forums. It was from selections by some of these individuals that we were to learn from to gain a better perspective and understanding of what it means to be “American.”
So why were we talking about white privilege? Because it was the start of a discussion. The topics of race and ethnicity were brought up the second day of class, and we were to discuss what our quiz results might mean. When one has white privilege, it means that as an individual, you may not be as aware of what it means to have your race greatly affect your life.
We debated whether or not the quiz was the best litmus test to gauge every individual, but it certainly sparked a conversation—one that lasted the entire two hours of class time. One classmate thought that had the quiz used the phrase “ethnic identity” instead of “racial identity” it would’ve made her answers completely different. Some thought it should just be labeled as a “privilege” quiz, as the questions were very vague and could’ve been answered in a variety of ways. I didn’t understand what it meant that I had white privilege, whether this was good, bad, or didn’t matter. But questions like these made for an engaging discussion, which was the whole point of the quiz.
After just two classes, I knew this wasn’t going to be the typical note taking, essay writing, and lecture-heavy classroom experience, and while unexpected, it was a pleasant surprise. I’ve enjoyed learning from my professor as well as my peers, each of whom has their own experiences to share, informed in part by their different backgrounds. As a writer, it’s hard to put down the pen and talk instead of write, but doing so will help me become a better scholar. This class is my first step, and I’m learning these benefits one discussion at a time.