Spring 2000
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TCU Magazine "Purpectives"

Articles: Spring break

At face value

By Shavahn Dorris '01

often wonder if white people are cognizant of being white.

I wonder if they ever come to a sudden realization as they are walking down the street that their skin is pale, their hair straight, their lips thin.

I wonder if they ever walk into a room and are so completely aware of their whiteness that the thought never leaves them, coloring every word they say and every look they give.

Or do the privileges of being white extend beyond the physical realm, and white people aren't even troubled to think about being white at all? In a country that is more than 80 percent white, it is not likely that white people are often faced with the task of examining their color.

Unless attending a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People meeting, black church event or some other gathering where the majority of the people are not white, most whites rarely move in a world that is not their own.

This privilege of insensibility of self may seem trivial. But, in fact, I've come to realize just how important it is as I entered my classes for the first time once again this semester. Because TCU is a microcosm of American society with more than 80 percent of its students being white, it is a good example of how this privilege works in everyday life.

For instance, it is a privilege to walk into a room and be Joe, Jenny or John instead of the black girl. It is a privilege not to feel as though you are an ambassador for an entire race of people simply because you are the only member of your race in a classroom.

Moreover, it is a privilege not to walk into a class and feel completely alone. In looking back, it has become quite obvious to me that the privilege of insensibility of self is prevalent among whites at TCU.

For example, I remember a writing workshop my freshman year in which my classmates and I were given the chance to help each other with our papers. In reading one of my group members' papers, I was surprised to find her use the phrase "us white people."

Apparently, she was so insensible of her color that she took for granted that the reader of her paper would be as white as her.

Such blatant acts of insensibility lead me to believe that many white people have no idea and have never thought about what it means to be black, Hispanic or some other ethnicity in a white society. For myself, it has always meant "us" against "them."

All my life, I've been told the white man does not want the black man to succeed, that whites are two -- faced, and, while they may smile in your face, they're calling you "nigger" behind your back. And that no matter how intelligent or talented you are, all the white man sees is black.

These thoughts pervade my mind as I enter the classroom. Surrounded by what I've always known to be "the enemy," I search for others like me. In those rare instances when I find them, I feel a certain kind of kinship with them. When I do not locate any black faces I am deeply disturbed.

On one level, I am enraged. What does the lack of black students going on to institutions of higher learning say about the quality of education in the black community? On another level, however, I am saddened.

What do my feelings say about me? What does it say when I walk into a room and my first concern is how many black people are in it? What does it say when I feel like I am an outsider in a room full of human beings simply because they are not my color? What does it say when I assume everything I say in class is perceived from the black perspective instead of Shavahn's perspective?

Maybe it says I'm paranoid. Maybe it says I have been conditioned by my environment to value "my people" above all other people. Maybe it says I'm a bigot. What it says about me, however, is less important than what it says about us -- society as a whole.

It says we haven't come as far as we think in looking past each other's color. For while I am allowed to move around in the "white world," I see it as just that -- the white world. It says that we still don't simply see each other as human beings as I walk into a room and connect to a color instead of a person.

Mostly, however, it says that we don't, and quite possibly will never, have a good understanding of each other, as I'm sure I've raised some issues some white people have never pondered, and some black people have never admitted.

Shavahn Dorris is an English junior from Joliet, Ill.