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Growing Up Privileged

By Karen Bagnard
Posted: 11/24/2020
Tags: karen bagnard
Karen Barnard

Like most white people, if not all, I grew up in the bubble of privilege.  The one we don’t even realize we are in because it’s all we know.  It’s like being in a clique.  You don’t even know there is a clique because you are in it.

I’ve never thought of myself as a racist.  I think of myself as fair-minded, open, understanding and aware.  That’s how I used to think of myself.  Now I see myself as just evolving to that point.

It has taken nearly 75 years for me to begin to more fully understand the depth of racism in me and in our country.  It’s just under the radar and it’s sometimes invisible and always insidious.  

I didn’t grow up in the south.  I grew up in Altadena.  I remember when Altadena was all white.  I remember when the first black neighbors bought on our street.  I remember the “for sale” signs popping up on the lawns of my friends’ homes.  I remember the neighbors talking about how awful this was.  I didn’t understand and I didn’t like my friends moving away.

I also remember my parents saying, “this is our home and we are not going to move!”  That made sense to me but I didn’t quite understand why everyone else was moving away.

I was busy with my own life and school and such but I remember lots of new people moved into the neighborhood and many of them had brown skin.  I don’t remember any kids but they may have been there.

Over the years I realized what a lovely neighborhood my parents lived in.  They had formed good relationships with their neighbors and when they were old and declining, these neighbors helped us kids look after them.  They took out the trash barrels, then hauled them back in, they brought meals over from time to time or offered to help with yard chores.  We kids were all adults now with homes and families of our own but we got to know these fine neighbors as we routinely looked in on Mom and Dad even more.

When I was 52 years old I inherited a grandson from my step-daughter.  He and I are not related but that made no difference.  He is half Native American from the Ione Tribe of Miwok Indians.

Aside from having to adjust to suddenly becoming a “mom” again of a boy who had just turned 5 after having raised only daughters, I also had to consider the importance of teaching him his heritage from his father’s side.

My grandson’s father was Miwok Indian.  He had been ashamed of being an Indian, yet he hated being mistaken for Mexican and he was openly prejudiced against blacks.  I wanted my grandson to have none of that.  I wanted him to know and honor his heritage and take pride in it.  I wanted him to appreciate the heritage of all people.

My favorite story was when he came home from kindergarten after learning about Dr. Martin Luther King.  He was so bright-eyed and excited to tell me what he had learned and he summed it up with, “When I grow up I want to be just like Dr. Martin Luther King!”  It melted my heart to hear that!  I wished his father could have felt that in his heart, too.

Now, through the 1619 Project group and my participation in the Inclusivity Committee, I feel myself growing into a deeper understanding of how we white people must educate ourselves and each other.  We need to come to a fuller understanding of how our culture stacks the cards in our favor and builds barriers to others whose skin is browner.  We need to actively participate in dismantling those cards.  We need to free ourselves and our privileged peers from the bubble.

My plan is to read, listen, learn and broaden the diversity in my circle of friends and associates.  I see great hope for the future in the heart and mind of my grandson and of other young people who didn’t grow up quite as prejudiced as we did.  I hope we can all actively undo our learning and pass it along.  My hope is that we will all remember the humanity we all share.

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