Sheltered columnist provides perspective

Jameson Goetz Columnist

I was raised in a Catholic, white, moderately-upper-middle-class family. I spent the first 18 years of my life in white, suburban Sioux Falls. During that time, 99 percent of the people whom I encountered also came from white, moderately upper-middle-class families. 

Despite my relatively sheltered upbringing, certain formative experiences have always given me the sense that I was raised in a bubble. This past summer I traveled to New Orleans to attend the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE) in New Orleans, an annual multicultural forum that attracts students, faculty, and professional staff representing campuses across the country. 

During my weeklong stay in New Orleans, I found myself on my very own Counter-Earth. All those white, Catholic, upper-middle-class people from the first 18 years of my life?  Few and far between. 

Still, as a self-identified idealistic, well-meaning young liberal, at first I viewed my tokenism as some sort of badge of honor. Here I was, the young Bobby Kennedy of the group, furthering the Kennedy family’s legacy in the fight for racial equity. Surrounded by some of the most well renowned anti-racism intellectuals in the country, I could not have felt more at home. 

A simple, yet complex question was raised. 

“What does it mean to be white in America?”

Suddenly, I felt much less at home, and much more like Bill Buckner, the Boston Red Sox first baseman who inexplicably let a ball roll directly beside his glove, through his legs, resulting his team’s loss to the New York Mets in Game Seven of the 1986 World Series.

The question was not directed at me personally, but it certainly felt that way. My mind began to search for words to explain my whiteness. Being one of the few white people in the room, I felt some sort of strange tribal obligation to speak up. As I was about to speak up, I looked around the room. My tokenism began to feel much more like my own version of Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter than a badge of honor. 

What if I said something insensitive, offended everyone in the room, and made myself look like an idiot? I did not utter a single word. I had never felt more out of place, nor more white. 

I have lived my whole life as a white person. So why had I never been asked to explain my whiteness, and why did I find the idea of doing so uncomfortable? I have always been aware that the lived experience of people of color differs greatly from mine. But the ambiguity of my white identity has taught me something very important. I am, and always will be, white. 

So why is this conversation relevant at SDSU? As a public university, SDSU has an obligation to strive to fulfill its potential as a vehicle of social justice, to create an environment in which all its students can succeed. In order to realize this goal, we must work to recognize our own privilege, regardless of the privileged identity.

So the next time you are frustrated with your life on campus, remember the student working full-time while attending classes in order to afford his or her education.

The next time you’re upset your residence hall bathroom is filthy, remember the transgender student on this campus who does not feel safe entering bathrooms on this campus that was built with only those in mind whose gender fits into a strict binary.

The next time you want to complain about your ten-minute walk to your morning class, remember the student on this campus who everyday has to constantly struggle to maneuver their way on a campus that was, for the most part, built with only able-bodied people in mind.

The next time one of your relationships is going through a rough patch, remember the student who is going through the same thing, but fears opening up about their situation for fear of being put down because they happen to be in a same-sex relationship. 

The next time you feel like you will never fit in, remember the international student who is trying to adapt to a new culture, all the while trying to succeed socially and academically.  

More importantly, remember the barriers that have prevented an endless number of potential Jackrabbits from ever stepping foot on campus.


Jameson Goetz is a Spanish major at SDSU. He can be reached at [email protected].