On Mixed Privilege

GCC Spring 2014I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether there is such a thing as ‘mixed privilege’. Today in my ESL class one of my students said he would let his daughter marry anyone…except for a Black person. I’ve shared with my students many times and in a number of ways that I am proud of being Black (& other things too). I also often use the exploration of ‘race as a social construct’ in order to teach English at the more advanced levels (as this class was). So what made this student feel comfortable enough to say this to me? Is it that I have a privilege that makes him feel like this kind of blatantly discriminatory statement is OK to say to me? A prolonged conversation ensued with historical context and personal anecdotes, but I was too fired up to ask directly why he felt this was OK.

Maybe when our privilege as mixed folks (that is, the times in which a person doesn’t immediately label us by how we appear) is indicated so clearly, we can take advantage of the opportunity. I’m thinking particularly of when we are asked the (in)famous ‘What are you?’ question. The person is implying that WE (unlike others) have the right/opportunity to label ourselves, and they have not yet judged our worth. What if we respond with a question like, ‘What information will you glean from the answer? or ‘What will you be more or less comfortable saying once you (think) you know the answer?’  Or…?

How would you have responded to my student?