After reading through some of the thousands of #BBUM tweets, I’ve been challenged to think about what being white at the University of Michigan means to me. This is in no way a parody of #BBUM, but rather a reflection of my own experiences and what I’ve seen of others’ experiences in comparison.
Being white at the University guarantees that I can walk into just about any setting here and feel welcomed and comfortable in my skin. I have never had the experience where a peer in my classroom has questioned my acceptance to this university. I have never felt alienated based on my race and I can rest assured that I will not stand out from the seas of white that fill my classrooms and that my responses to classroom questions will never be attributed to my race. The largest problem I have found with understanding my white identity is that it’s become something I’ve only ever had to think about in these privilege comparisons. I’ve often times found myself wondering, is being white even an identity?
After much thought, I’ve realized what my whiteness means to me. Being white, for me, is forcing myself to unlearn what society has engrained in me through the institutional racism I’ve seen before my own eyes. It’s about putting in the work to understand the ways in which I perpetuate this racism and making a conscious effort to stop myself. It’s heightening my awareness to the experience of the underrepresented minorities. It’s about opening my eyes. Being white is learning to take a step back, read and listen to my Black counterparts rather than trying to speak on their behalf. Being white at the University of Michigan is holding myself accountable.
Being white has given me a choice. Do I react to what I saw on my Twitter feed? Do I think twice about the many messages that were displayed on the posting wall? I can walk around knowing that no matter how many of my friends have experienced these sentiments, I could just as easily ignore them. I’m making the choice to listen and I’m hopeful that my white peers will join me.
I stand in solidarity with the #BBUM movement that the Black Student Union has begun. The University has said that they are listening, and I can promise you that I am, too.