SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2003        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Jolene Duran

Color Blind

I was raised in an upper middle class neighborhood in the suburbs of Littleton, Colorado.  I never really gave too much thought to the ethnic background in my school or my community. I saw the same familiar faces at school from year to year and considered everyone my friend and race and gender were never a factor. In seventh grade I was given an opportunity to attend another junior high school and write about the experiences I had observed that day.

 I and four of my classmates arrived at school early that morning so we could be shuttled over to Place Junior High School before school started. I had never heard of this school nor did I know where it was. As we drove there, I realized my family and I had passed through this area many times instead of taking the interstate to the airport. I knew the area was older and really had never given any thought to the individuals who lived in the area. When we arrived my classmates and I were each paired up with a student. We would attend their classes with them and observe the teacher and students in each class.

As I arrived at the front office at 8:00 AM, I saw five white students that looked scared. You could tell they were not from around here by the clothes they were wearing. You didn’t see too many students wearing expensive name brand clothes like Polo or Izod at this school. My school was predominantly Blacks and Hispanics. I was one of the few white students in the seventh grade class.  I was paired with a girl named Jolene.

 I was the only one out of the five of us that was paired up with a white person. Unfortunately, I don’t remember her name but I do remember she was very nice and did her best to make me feel comfortable in our 6 hours together. After we got situated in first period I began to look around the room and I realized there were not too many white students in the class. As the day went on I realized the students were mostly Blacks and Hispanics.  I felt completely out of place.

Even though my father’s ancestors came from Spain, I always just considered myself as white. English was the only language spoken in our house and we lived in an upper middle class white neighborhood. My father a Navy veteran with a college education owned his own company and my mom worked for a bank. We never talked very much about our heritage and celebrated every American holiday. My mom came from a German heritage and was raised in Oakland California. She went to a very multicultural high school. She and my father raised my brother and I to believe it doesn’t matter what you look like, everyone is the same.

As we settled into our seats, I could see we did not have much in common. Her parents were still together and mine were not. Her father owned his own business and I rarely saw mine. I knew that my mom provided the best that she could for me. We had a roof over our head and food on the table. Jolene was a nice person and even though we had nothing in common, I could see she lived a sheltered life. She didn’t live in fear of gangs and fights in her school. I had friends of all races and I learned about different cultures and languages. If I was going to survive I had to get along with everyone.

I might not live the same lifestyle as she, but I am rich in many other ways.  Even though as a white student I am a minority, I have several friends at school. I learned at a young age to accept others for who they are and this has made me a stronger person. I envy Jolene in some ways, but money only buys possessions it does not always buy happiness.

 Even though the hallways and classrooms seemed loud and chaotic to me, I am sure it was not much different from my own school. Feeling racially out of place, being out of my environment and not knowing anybody, my insecurities set in. I was not in any danger but I felt extremely uncomfortable. I went back to my school with a different perspective. Did my fellow minority schoolmates feel this out of place in our school? I often wondered but never had the courage to ask.

As I started this project, I thought I had a clear understanding of this event in my life even though it happened many years ago. Some of our readings gave me a different perspective and a more precise understanding of issues and feelings I had that day. The book that impacted me the most was, White Privilege. The article “Failing to See” by Harlon Dalton put things into perspective that I already knew or was not willing to admit.  Considering myself as a white American, I don’t think of myself in racial terms. In a sense I draw a parallel between whites and non-whites as equal, but at times I have caught myself with a feeling of superiority. Everyone is prejudiced in someway or another, but it’s neither something I want to admit nor something I am proud of.

I don’t think I will ever forget my experience at Place Junior High School. It was very different from the world I had grown accustomed to. I never had any reason to feel like a minority before. It made me see the world from a different perspective. Even though I felt as if I stuck out in the crowd as different, I am sure the looks from students were because I was an unfamiliar face not that I was racially different. I don’t remember what I wrote in my class paper that day, but what I experienced in six hours will stay with me forever. I am thankful for this profound life experience and in some ways this has made me a better person.

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