“I mean it would be easier for you to get it because you’re, like, not white, you know?”
No, I don’t know. So I stare blankly at her, hoping desperately that she provides some sort of clarification.
By the time she realizes I have no pity to offer and that I’m not worth a clarification, my mind has traveled far from this conversation.
Now, I’m thinking about the cackle of the older white male after it was suggested that I was probably invited for an opportunity to represent Elon University in a conference abroad because they needed a person of color for the team photograph. I laughed along, then.
Now I’m thinking about how dirty I felt after I told a friend I got into a selective school to pursue a graduate degree in South Asian studies and he responded with, “Well, come on, you wouldn’t even have to open your mouth to get in.”
Now I’m thinking about my self-doubt. It’s always disguised as a heavy, exhaustive list of questions that gnaw at my shoulders everywhere I go: Am I here because of my merit or because of my melanin? Is my name included in this thread to add color to the list? Am I placed here as a living, breathing representation of “Elon’s commitment to diversity,” or because I’m me — a person with more identity markers than “race, gender, religion and ethnicity?”
Too often, comments that suggest opportunities have been given to me because of quotas further instill in me the belief that I have not earned what I’ve achieved. That my resume must be a product of my skin and not my work ethic. That I shouldn’t be proud and instead be ashamed because somewhere, there’s a girl thinking she didn’t get it because she was going against a person of color. That it’s okay for someone to suggest that my credentials can be reduced to “brown girl.”
This dangerous idea of “minority privilege” — in my opinion a tool people use to deflect their own privilege — exists far beyond this conversation, set of experiences and this predominantly white campus.
It’s there today in the narrative that tells immigrants that they have “stolen” jobs, that they earned these opportunities because they have somehow benefited from the oppression associated with being a member of a marginalized group and not because of their unimaginable sacrifice, hard work and tenacity. The very people who claim theft are afraid to point to the many other aspects of society that have historically granted them social advantage.
It’s there in the collective outrage over affirmative action, in the claims that it is a tool for granting privilege when really, it is a response mechanism for a system that put minorities in deprived positions in the first place. It’s there to foster a competitive environment where minorities receive the same chances as those in the majority in spite of all the disadvantages and oppression they have faced thus far in their lives.
Tell me more about “minority privilege” when studies by entities including the Institute for Policy Studies and Corporation for Economic Development highlight the disparaging racial wealth gap: If the average black family's wealth continues to grow at the same pace it has over the past three decades, it would take black families 228 years to amass the same amount of wealth white families have today.
Tell me more about “minority privilege” when Michael Rodriguez — a highly qualified former assistant professor of marketing at Elon who has filed a lawsuit against the institution alleging two counts of discrimination — watched eight white candidates get promoted, including some he claims held “equal or inferior qualifications.” Tell me more when you read about his accounts of how his concerns about prejudice against non-whites were being constantly dismissed.
Tell me more when a study was released just last year by the University of Missouri that found that resumes bearing “white-sounding names” were more likely to lead to callbacks and job interviews.
In the present, I return to the conversation and tell my friend I’m truly sorry she didn’t get the position.
But I’m sorry, I’m not sorry, for my “minority privilege.”