One of the core missions of the Honors Diversity Council is to serve as a voice for marginalized communities on campus and foster a sense of belonging. Their weekly blog posts discuss the experience of students with marginalized identities/and or how the University community can be a more inclusive environment for everyone. This week, Honors Diversity Council member Isabel Meade shares her experiences related to white privilege and colorism.
When I was in middle school, my White, wealthy uncle and I had a conversation about college scholarships. “White people are robbed of scholarships,” he argued. “How would you feel if a less qualified Black person took money away from you just because of their race?” Though his arguments still ring ignorance in my brain, I can’t shake the feeling that I, a fair-skinned, half-Mexican girl, have taken opportunities away from those more deserving.
It is no secret that I appear White. In stark contrast to me, both of my siblings fit the “brown standard”: milk chocolate skin with deep brown eyes and black hair, nearly identical to my Mexican American father. Not me, I am as pale as salt with eyes greener than emeralds. When out in public at 14 years old, I was mistaken for my father’s wife at an outlet mall outside of Chicago. The employee even asked if I wanted to take my daughter (my eight-year-old sister) into the dressing room with me.
On paper, I am a different person, one who faces struggles associated with being visibly multi-ethnic. Race: White? Ethnicity: Latino. Yet, my ethnicity never posed any personal barriers simply because I do not look anything other than plain White.
When I started to drive, my mother decided to have the “police talk” with me. My father interrupted with pure disbelief. “Beth,” he stated, “she will never have to worry about those kinds of situations. Look at her.”
Although I can’t help but be thankful for my lack of oppression, I constantly feel as though I am alienated from my own communities, especially living in Iowa: a sheet of paper barely peppered with color of any kind. I’ve witnessed the contrast between how skin color impacts individuals’ treatment of their peers. Even out grocery shopping, there is a stark difference between the way employees assist and act towards my father versus my mother. When asking for help finding an item, workers would simply point my father in the general direction of the item and then dart away. With my mother, however, they often provide more extensive assistance and ensure that she finds exactly what she needs.
I am not shaded the same as my father or my siblings, therefore, I thankfully do not know what it feels like to be treated like this. Is it fair that I am getting a fortunate opportunity meant for someone who has faced oppression based on the color of their skin?
When I applied for college, I was not nervous about getting accepted. I had a high GPA and a qualifying ACT score. Did I think my ethnicity helped my chances? Truthfully, yes. It is apparent that Predominately White Institutions are looking for diverse students to help create inclusivity on their campuses. Because I had strong grades accompanying my ethnic label, it may have looked as though I overcame educational oppression. But again, I have not.
My high school’s student body is comprised of 82% White students and only 5% is Hispanic or Latino. There was no oppression placed on me in school because we were a wealthy, predominately white school with decent test scores. To speak to that, each student was even provided a MacBook Air with a wireless hotspot, funded completely by taxpayer dollars.
My scholarship is valued at $8,500, near the entirety of in-state tuition. However, the scholarship was intended for those who come from “a diverse background”. This is where I replay my uncle’s words. Am I taking a scholarship away from someone who faced adversity, especially in their educational lives? My grades may be slightly better, but my skin color never shielded me from educational opportunities as it might have for another applicant.
Am I, a fair-skinned student, taking opportunities away from someone who is more deserving of them? This notion continues to eat away at me to this day. Whether it is truthful or not, I continue to repeat my own rendition of my uncle’s words to myself: I am a White student robbing a student of color from an academic scholarship.
About the author:
Isabel Meade is a current second-year student majoring in Political Science with a minor in International Relations. Isabel has a passion for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and is new to the University of Iowa Honors Program Diversity Council. She is also involved in other activities on and off campus, such as being a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law fraternity, and working as a Pharmacy Technician at CVS Pharmacy. In her free time, she enjoys reading a good mystery or going on long walks listening to her Dance Moms podcast.