The White Picket Fence
Year-Long Journal of Professional & Personal Development
Inspiration for the title
The white picket fence.
Red brick pathway whizzing seamlessly toward two children.
Spotted with soft purrs as if plucked from Hemingway himself.
The two-story colonial, kempt blades of grass, and perfectly potted peonies
Encasing the perimeter as glistening smiles.
Horns of a devil,
Spikes of a rusty nail entering the skin
The shattered shards of a broken bottle.
The dream they say, protected by the covenant.
Two better than one, not easily broken.
But, are two better than one?
Convinced a fortification is a new coat of paint.
Yet, reticent debt, damaged pasts.
The laborious hours.
Click, click, tap, tap
of the computer keyboard.
Seduced by status quo.
Managing to miss the steaming lavender soak spoiled by salt.
A heart of contempt comforted only by white tiles and cold mortar, the pieces of the wedding cake ready to be cut.
The Privilege Walk
Reflections of an emotional event
In looking back over my notes from Sunday’s class, they start with, “Shoulder-to-shoulder” and end with, “Struggle – pain ---.” There is no need for me read what was written between these bookends of Sunday’s class to recall the feeling of the experience – one that was overwhelming, depressing, and exhausting. The anticipation of what seemed like childhood recess of getting to go outside with my classmates was exciting, but what I experienced and many appeared to have experienced instead, was struggle and feelings of pain. While I do think of how I am not like most of my peers at Penn, not because of race though, prior to this I could not have fathomed the oppression that many of my classmates and individuals feel and experience on a daily basis. Before I continue to reflect, I must comment on how brave the members of our cohort were in sharing on Sunday. You make me even more proud to be a part of SMHC 2013 and I hope we can continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder as a unified group.
The experience was very emotional for me for two reasons. First, I was forced to examine myself and second, I could not seem to control my empathy and increased sadness for my friends. I wanted to protect people I consider friends. This brought to my conscious how difficult the job of a counselor is. When entering this program, I was concerned a weakness for me as a counselor would be my overwhelming empathy. However, since working with my volunteer client, I have gained some confidence that I will not be affected to the degree I would have thought. As a consequence of this exercise, my heart is burdened with more feelings that I may be too emotional to be an effective counselor. On the other hand, I am less critical of my thoughts because they seem normal based on the extreme emotion some of my classmates felt as well.
One of the ideas that impacted me most was the expression many women made about their concerns for raising children in our society along with the amount of sacrifice many parents/mothers had to make to bring us this far. Some discussion points that resonated with me most related to women wondering if their children will be able to deal with this and that not everyone is as strong as those of us in our classroom. I was overwhelming inspired by classmates words that the weight that pushes down on them gives them more energy to move forward. I was most touched by a classmate’s comment about being the farthest in the back of the group and how more importantly, while she was farthest back, she really is privileged in comparison to her neighbors and many others. Since there is such a disparity in our cohort, it is even more significant outside of Penn, in the towns and neighborhoods where we may or may not have grown up.
One concept I did not have exposure to that shocked me was how horrible law enforcement treats minorities. I was saddened to hear of the several severe instances spoken about in class that demonstrated the horrific situation. The burden of a mother having to tell her children how to talk to a police officer so her son doesn’t one day end up dead or in jail makes me cry. What seems even worse about this is police officers present programs in our schools and tell the children they are there to protect them. This seems very hypocritical and I can imagine kids lose trust quickly in these adults who are supposed to help them.
The one illustration of a bi-racial love relationship made the picture of white privilege even clearer. Particularly, the father’s comment, “This girl’s going to get you killed,” hurt because I am a hopeless romantic. To think that one person can’t be with the one they love for reasons that relate to white privilege disgusts me.
Two statements from the exercise that surprised me were “You will have to take care of your parents when they are older,” and “It was assumed you would go to college.” For me, I have always planned to have to take care of my parents, out of a duty to give and do for them, regardless of finances. It is interesting for me to think that some people would not have to take care of their parents. I was short of surprised that not more people took a step back for, “It was assumed you would go to college.” I am first generation in my family to go to college, so it was not expected that I would go to college. My family would not judge me as being less if I had chosen a blue-collar profession following high school. I wonder if the number of people taking steps forward relates to our being at Penn.
My final thoughts relate to how fortunate I feel and for that how thankful I need to be and behave. It is upsetting for me, even prior to this activity, to see individuals with so much wanting more and more and complaining about what they have, when it is so much greater than what other’s have. For future practice as a counselor and individual, I want to take this feeling with me to help others who are less privileged, but not just in terms of white privilege, rather, privilege across the board. I want to take action in my school district to support students who are not the majority and I certainly will pay much more attention to white privilege in my daily life, from TV to Band-Aids! This experience has given me the ability to empathize more with all of my clients, particularly those who are oppressed or not experiencing privilege.