White Privilege – RetroFlash by
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Prompted By Inequality

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There is racial injustice.

I learned that early

From good parents.

“Limousine liberals,” to be sure

(as am I, even driving an Accord).

But I learned it.

 

All through high school

I tutored and taught programs

For poor Black kids in New Haven,

Along with dedicated Black educators.

 

I’d like to think I helped

And made some true friendships, too.

But maybe all I did

Was to collect some superficial stories

For my college admissions essays.

 

And then at college,

More tutoring programs.

But what I really learned

Was from my Black roommate

From a tough DC neighborhood.

White privilege.

 

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    We all come from privileged backgrounds, John. I’m sure your tutoring helped. We were all taught at an early age about social justice and do what we can. The outrage I feel watching Derek Chauvin’s trial doesn’t bring George Floyd back to life. We can work and vote for the people who believe as you were taught, to make the world more equitable.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Powerful statement, John. The truth is in your last three lines. In addition to doing, it is so important to listen and learn.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thank you, Laurie. I do try to listen and learn. But mainly never forget how lucky I am. I am reminded of a Chris Rock routine which he ends by saying, in effect, “I’m rich; I’m famous; I’m a big star. But I don’t think that any white guy would want to trade places with me.”

  3. Love the hands and glasses image!

  4. You’ve nailed it, John. There’s abstract learning and real learning. Well done.

  5. Wonderful John.
    I’m learning that it’s not enough to say, I’m not racist. One has to be anti -racist.
    Am reading and learning how to do that!

  6. Suzy says:

    Well done, John. Interesting about Wylie. I always wondered why he stayed roomies with you white guys, instead of joining an all-black rooming group like so many were doing at that time.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. I can tell you, Wylie was really torn. He really liked us white roomies, but we knew he was also getting a lot of pressure from his black friends to move to an all-black rooming group. We made it clear that we would understand if he moved, but were very happy that he didn’t. But tough on him; yet another pressure we white guys didn’t have to face.

  7. Marian says:

    How true, John, great Flash. Interesting that at Mills we had an “integrated” dorm wing of white and Asian young women where I lived, but the black gals lived (by choice) in a different wing. Thinking back and talking to alums of color recently, I now understand why they stuck together and had such a difficult time. Live and learn, as you say.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    Your description captured very well an experience many share, thanks. It sounds as if you were lucky to have the roommate you did.

  9. Your learning experience strikes so true. We can learn so much in the abstract, but until we are required to act, we haven’t really absorbed the lessons. I hope you’re still in touch with your roommate, John.

    • John Shutkin says:

      In fact, my roomie must be telepathic. He called me today out of the blue and we had a fun, if too brief, chat. He had to dash out to a gathering, but we promised to be in touch again soon. Really nice.

  10. Do Accord drivers really have to peg themselves as “limousine liberals?” (I’ve owned two of them. )

    As a matter of historical record, I don’t think the term “white privilege” was widely used until some years after we were undergraduates. But you’re allowed poetic license to use it as a way of retroactively relating what you learned from your roommate.

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