Race and Privilege

By Marsha Rule
CCDE Community Member


Open and honest conversations about race and privilege are happening at the University of Washington.

Interrupting Privilege, a class offered by the UW Center for Communication, Difference and Equity (CCDE), has given meaning to my journey. It has given me a language for expressing the frustrations and pains of my experiences in academic, corporate, and community spaces.

The class provides tools by which to interrupt, or at least pause, the daily, unintentional, and often well-meaning assaults on my and others’ wellbeing:

“You are so articulate….”
“I don’t see race when I look at you….”
“Oh, that’s so gay….”
“You’re the only black woman on our staff, so you don’t have to worry about getting a promotion….”

For most of this journey, as an African American woman, who is also a lesbian, I thought silence was the best way to survive. And, I guess, for a time, it was. I tried to avoid making waves. I remained silent to the slights, aggressions—micro and macro, the innuendo. I pushed myself to be better, to be more, to rise above, to try to fit in, and, by all means, to avoid drawing attention to any part of myself that was not “the norm.” Navigating this terrain on a daily basis for most of my 70 years has been exhausting.

In the fall of 2017, I attended a workshop called Interrupting Microagressions by Ralina Joseph, professor of communication and director of the CCDE. During the workshop, Professor Joseph illuminated research that addressed the enormous mental and physical toll racial microagressions take on those who experience them.

In that moment, for the first time, I heard scholarly and scientific validation of my lived experience. The workshop also introduced tools, such as inquiry, reflection, paraphrasing, by which to safely address daily assaults.

Last winter, I participated in the Interrupting Privilege class for alumni, community members and undergraduate students—a ten-week opportunity to engage in a multiracial, intergenerational conversation about race and privilege.

The class was transformative for me. I heard heart-felt stories, from participants young and old, that echoed and validated my own. I also had several opportunities to reflect on microagressions that I myself had perpetrated (a humbling experience).

Central to the class was deep listening—creating safe and welcoming spaces in which to share and be heard; sharing experiences—Story Corps listening parties, lectures, and cultural events and then discussing our perspectives on our experiences.

Having lived through the seminal years of the civil rights movement and women’s movement, I thought it was just a matter of time before better laws would truly equalize the playing field. As the current resistance to racial and gender equality attests, we need to do much more—we need to have the courage to have open and honest conversations about the intent and impact of our words and the content of our hearts!

Interrupting Privilege has given me new tools and courage to speak up and continue my journey.

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