It’s not often that you can pinpoint the exact moment your worldview changes in a significant way. For me, it happened when I attended an event last semester on Ferguson and Eric Garner. I was astonished as I listened to one peer after another share “their story” of a time when the police put them in handcuffs or patted them down during a routine encounter. It seemed that every single person at the table had a story like that, except me. And the only difference I could see between us was the color of our skin. We live in the same world, yet two different worlds. Mine is a world of inherent privilege; a gift given to me at birth that I hadn’t fully realized I had until that day.
When I was 17, I was pulled over by a cop for missing a stop sign. The process went as I expected – the officer checked my license and registration, wrote a ticket, told me to be more careful, and sent my friends and me on our way. There were no questions about where we were going, what we were up to, what else was in the car with us. Nothing. And the fact that nothing more than a ticket happened has to do with that privilege that I didn’t fully understand at the time. I’m not saying every police officer goes overboard when they encounter someone of color, but if my friends and I had been black, it wouldn’t have been surprising for the officer to call for backup and get us all out of the car. In fact that’s exactly what happened to many of my classmates.
White privilege is real, and often it’s what you do not experience that means you are privileged. A suspicious clerk has never followed me around in a drug store simply because of my skin color. I’ve never had somebody walk to the other side of the street when they saw me coming.
The diversity training provided in preterm was a welcome time to question my own biases. This was the beginning of an important personal exercise I had hoped business school would provide – a chance to examine my life and become a better citizen of the world. But one short part of one presentation focused on diversity biases just isn’t enough if there is to be real change within Huntsman’s walls and beyond. And even though Wharton is almost exclusively a student-led experience, we can’t just leave it up to impromptu gatherings following tragic events to take the place of institutionalized training.
Sally Kohn said it well in the Washington Post: “Being a constructive part of America’s necessary discussion on race and racial bias means acknowledging how bias and privilege may shape your own life even if you don’t want it to. Responsibility isn’t the same as culpability.”
It comes down to priorities. What could be more important in shaping the world’s future leaders than teaching them to tackle inequality head on? Surely not marketing, not finance. We learn equations but fail to understand equality. We have workshops on how to format a resume when we really need to learn how to foment change for underprivileged societies. Diversity Week at Wharton is a step in the right direction. It’s time we make more time for those “necessary discussion[s]” at Wharton, even if it means fewer tips on cracking the next case.
- Change the Business Status Quo by Melissa Morales WG’15
- It Could Have Been Me by Lawrence Cole WG’15
- The Business Case For Diversity by Professor Michael Sinkinson