Who Gets to be Heard?

%0A%09%09%09%09%09%09

Chris Maurice

“If privilege guilt prevents me from acting against oppression, then it is simply another tool of oppression.”  –Jamie Utt

For four days in April, a group of students and teachers attended the White Privilege Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many of them, including Mr. Carpenter, purchased t-shirts and sweatshirts with the words Got Privilege? “The gear, like the conference, is made to stir discussion around the privilege we all exhibit yet never discuss the effects of,” said Richard Mbouombouo. Every person in the world carries many privileges with them; for some it may be the privilege of being white, the privilege of living United States, or simply the privilege of being healthy. The goal of addressing privilege is not to target certain people but an entire society that values certain genders, races, and sexualities more than others. Nor is it about making anyone feel guilty or ashamed. Talking about privilege aims to identify areas in society where there is room to improve. It is to challenge a society that gives privilege to some while oppressing others. Identifying one’s privileges is to make individuals more aware of what they say or do. It is easier to be sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, or racist when one does not understand that certain groups are oppressed because of traits they are born with. Acknowledging and understanding one’s privilege is more than just saying, “I’m white,” it is about being able to comprehend the social dynamics in play during whatever situation arises. For four days in April, a group of students and teachers attended the White Privilege Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many of them, including Mr. Carpenter, purchased t-shirts and sweatshirts with the words Got Privilege? “The gear, like the conference, is made to stir discussion around the privilege we all exhibit yet never discuss the effects of,” said Richard Mbouombouo. The goal was to never target wealthy, white, heterosexual males and females —it was to start a conversation, but the conversation Mr. Carpenter and others hoped to start has instead turned into a controversy, taking the focus off the real issue. Instead of talking about privilege we are talking about political t-shirts in school. Mr. Carpenter wore his shirt twice: once on the day Fred Barnes came to speak and once on Friday, May 6th. It was on that Friday morning in May, when Mr. Dunn was informed that Mr. Carpenter was once again wearing his t-shirt. During a later conversation with faculty after the incident, Mr. Dunn talked about, “being more conscious, thoughtful and aware of their dress, words and actions—particularly in our extremely charged atmosphere at school right now. In explaining his reasoning, Mr. Dunn stated that teachers have a certain amount of authority over students, and when they come in wearing something, “a controversial t-shirt worn by someone in this kind of position can actually prevent kids from speaking freely, and in the end, derail the entire topic.” What is still unclear about the ruling is where it stops. Are teachers allowed to wear their Hillary for President shirts or Make America Great Hats? Or what about their CAUSE buttons? “A Hillary Clinton shirt, or even a Donald hat is less charged than some other shirts, but in this moment why does it have to be about [teachers’] political affiliation? Why can’t it be about the kids?” said Mr. Dunn. Mr. Dunn does believe talking about privilege is an important conversation to have. “It is about identity. It is about who you are, who I am, and how we got to where we are. The best way learning happens is where people discover things. If you learn about where you came from it will make you more empathetic towards other people’s struggles,” he said. Richard spoke along the same lines. “Got privilege is an important question because it forces you to do some inner reflection. A question I kept asking myself when reflecting on my privilege was ‘Okay, so what can I do about it?’” What is evident as a result of this issue is that our school is quick to jump to assumptions, close its doors, and censor whatever causes controversy. People are very defensive right now and are having trouble listening to one another. A conservative speaker coming to assembly— we are not going to agree on anything. We’re watching a movie about sexual assault on college campuses— it’s just going to demonize men. Got privilege t-shirt— I’m being targeted being I’m wealthy. Rather than creating a taboo around issues from politics, to sexual assault, to privilege we should have a conversation together to learn from each other and expand our knowledge. Students learn best from other students, and just like in a classroom the teacher initiates the conversation and the students carry it. We can all agree that there are certain aspects of Latin still need to change, but as Will Slater wrote in the last edition of The Forum, “Progress won’t come with anonymous letters criticizing, for to criticize and not offer solutions is to offer half a thought, the easier half at that.” If students continue to anonymously report the actions of their teachers to those higher in the administration, teachers may soon become cautious of what they say in order to avoid the repercussions that will come as a result. It is difficult for the truth to come out in a mess of students and parents hiding behind computers and phones using faux emails to tattletale on teachers. “We should allow push back to be present, heard, and seen so we could have a conversation,” said Mr. Carpenter. However, push back, such as the email sent to various Latin parents by [email protected], is being kept in an anonymous matter. If teachers are constantly aware and cautious of what they are going to say, it has the potential to obstruct students’ educations. Latin was a school founded on exclusivity; however, in recent years, that has changed. “Students who had opportunities to go to Jones, Whitney Young, Walter Payton turned them down because they wanted to be apart of Latin School of Chicago, a school that was transitioning into a school of inclusivity, but it seems in these past months we have hit the glass ceiling, and the reality check has hit,” said Mr. Carpenter. We all have the potential to understand why society holds certain people higher than others. Signing a piece of paper saying you are against racism does nothing. Understand who you are, empathize with others, and act against the oppression that continues to exist in today’s society.  ]]>