State High’s White Privilege Problem

Sydnee Rockey, Staff Writer

State High has a white privilege problem. As a white student in our school, I have witnessed this throughout my high school years. 

I witness it in small ways throughout my day: I am conscious of the fact that I do not have to change the way that I am talkingI don’t have to answer questions about whether or not people can touch my hair; I can walk into a classroom of people who look exactly like me, and I can sit down in history class to hear the history of people who look like me. I am privileged. defines white privilege as: “a term used to describe unearned rights and benefits afforded to white people in Western society because of the color of their skin.”

“State High, no matter how inclusive and diverse it advertises itself as, still has an incredible underlying problem with white privilege,” Gwen Michaels, senior, said. “The clear white privilege shown at State High adversely affects students of color and is detrimental in the fight for equality on even the smallest scale.”

White privilege can be seen in many ways, on both a micro and macro level.

“Growing up going to Park Forest and also State High, [there were] so many microaggressions,” Aryka Cook, a senior at both State High and the Delta Program, said. “Lots of little things that I don’t think my [peers] realized.”

Often times white students don’t even realize there is a problem at State High, which in and of itself is a privilege. White students don’t have to realize that they are receiving different, most often better, treatment in relation to students of color. There’s privilege built into the education system just looking at the history taught in schools. It wasn’t until a few years ago that State High added African American Studies as an elective choice, but it’s still an optional course for students to take. There’s a great amount of privilege in history (which is mostly whitewashed) being taught as part of the “normal” curriculum, and students experience this more when growing up in a predominantly white area.

Whether intentional or not, it shows that some history is more important than others, that some history can be ignored or brushed past in order to make room for the “was Christopher Columbus a good man?” discussion that occurs when the “Age of Exploration” is taught every year.

“Privilege is not something that has not been known for a long time, that we’ve just discovered, it’s not a new thing,” Cook said. “It was built this way to keep some people up and some people down. Schools can totally reverse this, we just need more people talking.”

“[When] we did those forums, people of color talked less than white people,” Cook said, referring to the Hate Speech Forums that took place in December. Cook is a Peer Advocate and participated as a facilitator at the forums. “That was very sad to see. That was a privilege for them–like I can talk about how hate speech affects me even though it’s not part of my identity.”

“Just going over to State High where my teachers are white and I have no teacher of color [to look up to],” Cook said. “There’s an uncomfortableness over [at State High] about talking about how people identify and how that affects us.”

Cook commented on the lack of diversity at State High. She is correct in this estimate. According to the district’s “About The District” page, only 2.4% of students identify as black (2019).

“There are like 50 kids at State High who are black and you know most of them and it’s like they see us all the same,” Cook said. “It’s like that one black boy speaks for all black boys and one black female speaks for all the black females at State High.”

As for how Cook believes the school should move forward on this issue she said: “I think if we have more discussions on how people are feeling.” Cook believes that having further discussions will allow administrators to understand, “how any kid walks through State High everyday and [how they feel] when they see confederate flags and ‘Blue Lives Matter’ walking around or they hear that people want a flag that represents cisgender, white, men.”

“We honestly need to hire more [faculty],” Cook said. “We need to not be afraid of changing the system and changing ‘how we run our school.’” Cook addressed wanting change in the school by wanting the way that the school is making decisions to change. “Because it’s the easiest way? Because it’s making people feel safe at our school? No.”

White students need to understand the amount of privilege we have. Listen to students of color about their experiences in the school and then listen to how best you can show your support. Realize that you do have privilege and there’s no need to get defensive about it. There needs to be a change made in our schools to make them a more inclusive space. School should be a place where everyone feels accepted and supported.

“Something I would say to white students would be you if you feel you are ashamed of your privilege or that you feel that you are being judged because you are privileged, just know that you are and admit it and don’t try to make excuses about how you are privileged,” Cook said. “Try to see a different perspective, and to see your privilege and to realize how you walking through the world is different [from] a person of color walking through the world.”