Hi, my name is Privileged

Last December, I had the amazing opportunity to go to InterVarsity’s missions conference called Urbana (though it doesn’t take place in Urbana, IL anymore). And while I would love to tell you about all the incredible things I learned there, today I only want to talk about a specific issue: privilege and racial relations in the US.

Let me start by saying that I am not an expert on this topic by any means, so I will speak only on what I feel I have authority to speak on. But I can’t be silent. Because people are dying. And I know that me writing these few hundred words won’t do much, but I can’t just sit back, not talk about it, and not care about this. Michelle Higgins fiercely asserted at the conference, “Inactivism is not hate. But it is not love.”

Privilege. It’s a nasty thing, and extraordinarily tricky. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but privilege gifts blindness to those who have it. It’s like covering a dead body with perfume in hopes that that will mask the putrid smell of death.Here’s an example. Two weeks ago, a black woman was shot and killed by police in San Francisco, and I only know that because I went looking for it. Did I see anything on facebook, anything on twitter? No. Because it’s not an issue I personally deal with, I didn’t even know it happened.

We fiercely, continuously spray the perfume on. When dozens of Europeans are killed, we all publicly mourn, but when almost the exact same number of people are killed in Turkey a week before, no one bats an eye. Except for the people who care about Turkey, me being one of them. But I’m totally in the wrong here too. I care about Turkey because I was born there, and I lived there, not because I intentionally sought out the problems of the rest of the world. I am not good at keeping up with the global problems. I prefer to shield my eyes and only read about bacteria, social issues, and theology. I used to blame the problem on the media covering the sympathetic issues more, but it’s also me. The bombings in Turkey were an eye-opening experience for me, because it showed me how I only care about the people and places that are close to my heart. And man, is that uncomfortable.

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Colonial Williamsburg is such a quaint, charming place before you stop to think about how much injustice occurred there.

I want to say that black suffering in our country is not my story. And in most senses, it’s not. I am not the one who has to worry that my skin color will keep me from getting a job when I am completely qualified. I am not the one who has to worry about my little brother being sentenced to death (whether intentionally or not) because of our skin color. That is not my story, and it is not my place to come in and tell you that story. My story is one of privilege. I almost certainly don’t know the depths of my privilege. My story is that my ancestors came to this country on the Mayflower (I’m so white; I know!), almost certainly abused the Native Americans who already lived here, and later slaves from Africa and the West Indies, all people with families, hopes, and dreams. The role of the persecutor is in my blood, and that is painful to think about. Of course I am not defined by what my ancestors did, but it is still feeds into of the privilege that is a part of my story.

Systematic racism exists in our country today. I’m not saying that because I myself have judged it to be so, but because I have listened to the stories of people who have faced injustice and discrimination. So, let’s all decide to take the blindfolds off, to stop using our privilege as an excuse for ignorance. Don’t say what is or isn’t racist when you haven’t checked the privilege that is clouding your view. It’s not your story, so learn to be comfortable in your ignorance (and strive to educate yourself, of course–my point is that you will never be completely knowledgeable on this, because you don’t have to live through it). Learn to be comfortable in what makes you uncomfortable instead of in complacency. I started this blog post a week ago, but I’ve refrained from posting it because of how uncomfortable it makes me. But I’m finally posting it because it’s important to talk about this.

So we’re privileged. Now what? Now we listen. Now we learn. There’s so much for us to learn, to just pay attention to in the first place. It’s interesting because in December of 2014 I wrote a post pretty similar to this one, saying: “I have privilege, I don’t pay attention to racial relations, I should listen, etc.” But I didn’t do a good job with that. I didn’t seek out opportunities to learn more, and I became comfortable with complacency. So hopefully I’ll do better this time. I actually think I already am making progress, which is exciting. Either way, I’ve done enough talking.

An Open Letter to the Loudoun County School Board

*For those of you who don’t know, Loudoun County, the county I essentially grew up in, is1463585_848223821855895_8269696314325443692_n strongly considering enacting a plan to rezone elementary schools in Leesburg by neighborhoods. At first glance, this seems logical, giving students shorter bus rides and whatnot, but it will result in a highly stratified system for elementary schools, which is what I take issue with here. This is a copy of the email I sent to the School Board, and I decided to publish it here as well in order to publicize my critique. If you feel strongly about this as well, send an email to the School Board at lcsb@lcps.org before March 29th, because that’s when they’ll vote on the rezoning plans! Without further ado, here is my open letter:

Dear members of the Loudoun County School Board,

My name is Brianna Meeks. I am a former student of the Loudoun County public schools. I graduated in 2014, and I now go to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Northern Virginia, Loudoun County included, has quite a strong representation at William & Mary, and thus, people have created a stereotype for “NoVa” students: mainly, that we are all wealthy. While this stereotype fits many of the Northern Virginia residents, I do not believe it is the best stereotype. I believe that the most accurate statement that can be made of a Northern Virginia resident is that that student almost certainly went to a good school. I am impressed with the quality of my education in public schools in Loudoun County. I was able to attend the Academy of Science, do theatre and choir, and truly thrive while I was in the Loudoun County public school system, which has helped me to thrive here at William & Mary.

Plan 12 is a disgrace to the superior education I received in the Loudoun school system. This is segregation in today’s world, and I am shocked that such a plan could hold weight among a respected group of people as yourselves. Every child deserves the right to an excellent education, an education like the one I got, an education that Loudoun County can give them if you do not rezone based on neighborhoods. If you are making this decision purely for the ease of zoning in the future, then I respect that. However, to zone based on neighborhoods means to zone based on socioeconomic status and race. Making logistics simpler in the future may be a noble goal, but we cannot do so when the result is segregation. We cannot do so at the expense of the education of these children.

Not only are these students at a disadvantage economically and from a lack of proficiency with the English language; now you want to increase their setbacks in life. With society as a whole conspiring against them, the one thing disadvantaged students can count on to give them a chance to reach their full potential in life is a quality education. This plan would take that away, and I am ashamed of that. This plan sets up these students to fail from the beginning, and that is an injustice to them. This plan tells them that they are worth less than students who come from families with privilege, which, frankly, is despicable.

Furthermore, every student should have the opportunity to learn alongside students who are different from them. Diverse environments promote empathy, and empathy is one of the most valuable lessons a person could receive in an increasingly cruel world. Separating the disadvantaged from the advantaged not only severely hurts the disadvantaged, as I have mentioned, but it also steals an extremely valuable opportunity away from the advantaged and thus, hurts them as well. Just as sexism hurts men as well as women, so any form of discrimination hurts all people. If you do not have the empathy to care for the low-income and ELL students, care at least for the chance for your own children.

You are masking this plan under the guise of simplicity of zoning, to reduce the amount of changes that will be made in the future. I want to believe that you have pure motives, but I am forced to be skeptical. You as a board are not diverse at all, and you may not even be aware of the privilege you and your children have. Privilege affords blindness to those who have it, and it is time that those of us who do have it to look critically at the ease with which we can succeed and the difficulties we may never have to face. Maybe you are not explicitly xenophobic, but we all have implicit biases. This issue really comes down to racism, classism, and xenophobia. But diversity is not a weakness; it is a strength. We should not be afraid of differences but rather welcome them with open arms.

Thank you,

Brianna Meeks