I’ve become more aware of my white privilege the past two years. It’s been a very inspiring and sometimes challenging time. I didn’t want to see it. But it was there. I became willing to look. I am willing to change. The challenes continue and I do better every time.
Obviously I grew up in a white middle class family. I was lucky in so many ways. Good schools, a wonderful childhood, violin lessons, some freedom. My parents were well educated.
My mother was a founding social worker in Seattle’s Head Start program under Dorothy Hollingsworth and I’m super proud of her. Dorothy ran into mom at the grocery store and said she was looking for a few good people and wanted mom. Heart bursting with pride.
Dad was the housing manager over the years for Rainier Vista, Holly Park, and Yesler Terrace. His boss was the city. I remember the day he came home and announced he quit because, after years of arguing, the city refused to install burglar alarms to prevent rape at Yesler Terrace. I didn’t know then that I’d be a rape survivor 3 times. I was so proud of dad for walking out on The Man. He just couldn’t take it any more. I’m acutely aware right now that dad was showing his privilege. The residents couldn’t leave.
I had daily reminders that helping others is necessary. That helping those who have no advocates is our duty and privilege.
Even with all that in my daily life I discovered last year that somehow I’d still been assimilated. I was crushed at first. I’m not kidding. I thought I’d escaped it but I hadn’t.
Since then I’ve been thinking of this man, Ben Wright. Mr. Wright was my 8th grade Black History teacher. I went to Meany, 5 blocks from my home. I’d been assaulted several times after school and on the playground by other girls for being a privileged white girl. I got beat up one day for calling pants slacks. I guess slack meant Super Cool and those girls were having none of it, confused as I was. I never told my parents about the assaults and stalking. How could I tell my mom that the adorable plaid poncho she made with love got me assaulted. I knew why it was happening. Anyway, Meany was HARD. I met Kerry Collins there in orchestra. If not for Kerry and Mr. Wright I would have imploded.
Mr. Wright saw something in me. Not sure what, but I went home with his personal books on the Black experience. I read them and returned them to get more. We talked about the story the books were telling. They weren’t the school history books, progressive as Meany was. This man gave me what I consider to this day a REAL education. His stern kindness when he caught me cheating on a test has never been forgotten. I still do things the right way because of it.
I’ve been thinking of him a lot this year. WWBWD? I knew his name wasn’t Richard but you can see perhaps how I got that name confused with Wright over the many decades since. A couple weeks ago my brain finally said BEN! So I searched and found this article.
Mr. Wright was the best teacher I’ve EVER had. He encouraged and supported me. He taught me things no other city school was teaching. He trusted me with his own library. It’s because of him that I’m working so hard to crush my privilege bias because I know America’s true shameful and also inspiring history
I thank the universe every day for Mr. Wright. A smart, educated, Black man teaching Black History in an inner city school saw a smart, tiny, privileged, but open minded, white girl and took the time to bring her along. I like to think he saw something in me. That, despite my white privilege, I was one of the good guys. If not for him would I strive daily to be a better person? Perhaps. My parents showed me what good people do. But no one has influenced me so thoroughly as Mr. Wright.
I’d sure like to thank him.