The concept of white privilege remains controversial in the same way people still argue about climate change. A small, increasingly-fringe faction might argue that it doesn't exist at all. Another broad, more conservative group might concede that it does, technically, exist, but still disagree about what it means, whether it's important and what, if anything, we can do about it.
Still, many others would argue that acknowledging and working to understand it is an important step toward fixing the problem -- in the case of white privilege, the problem being compounded, inter-generational inequality that, although sometimes subtle, is still present in the everyday lives of people of color.
Even if we concede that white privilege -- the idea that being born white comes with certain inherent advantages -- is "controversial," does that mean the topic shouldn't be broached in a college course?
According to one white Lone Star College-Tomball student, the concept is just too offensive -- offensive enough to file a complaint against his professor, according to Channel 2. Here's what the station reported:
A controversial assignment from one professor at Lone Star College - Tomball campus has some students upset. At least one of them has filed a complaint and refused to complete the assignment.
"I was shocked, I thought it was a joke," the student told Local 2. He asked not to be identified because he doesn't want any backlash from the professor for speaking out.
The lesson was a "White Privileges" worksheet.
A statement the college provided the station says the student was enrolled in a "Lone Star College Student Success Course," a class for the school's first-time-in-college students. Among the topics covered in that course is diversity, the college says. "Some of the topics addressed can include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, and religious beliefs, just to name a few."
Addressing the concept of white privilege doesn't exactly seem out-of-bounds, given the college's description of the course. But what apparently rattled the unidentified student so much that he filed a complaint about his professor was the "white privilege checklist" that's often used to illustrate what white privilege really means. Here are some of the common checklist items:
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
- When I am told about our national heritage or about civilization, I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
- If a traffic cop pulls me over, or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
- I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.
The student told Channel 2 he took a stand and refused to complete the "assignment" (even though, according to the college, the checklist was just a not-for-credit supplement in the class). "Basically the way I felt was that I was supposed to feel alienated and that I was supposed to feel bad."
We can almost understand why the student might feel uneasy about addressing white privilege -- presumably for the first time -- in class, in front of his peers. But the professor handed out this checklist in an online class. Still, the student told the station, "I didn't feel comfortable sitting by myself at a computer with no one around me, I couldn't imagine if I was in a classroom setting and these questions were put in front me of me."
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