College Skit Plays White Privilege Blame Game

by Jenna Neumann - Kalamazoo College on May 12, 2014

OPINION

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – When I arrived at Dalton Theater on a recent Friday night to attend a black cultural awareness troupe performance at Kalamazoo College, I went with an open mind and good intentions.

I was there with friends to support a performer in one of the traditional African dance ensembles, one of about a dozen skits to be presented that night during the Black Student Organization’s annual cultural show.

While most of the songs, dances and poems captured the beauty, strife, and determination of the African and African American culture – the show took an unfortunate turn.

Essentially I was informed that because of my white skin, I’ve lived a life of privilege, while all minorities struggle with a life tainted by everything from insensitivity to racism.

One skit suggested white students always insultingly ask black students about their hair – “What’s it feel like?” “How do you take care of it?” – and another accused white people of appropriating (stealing) “twerking” from black culture.

But perhaps the most egregious example was a 15-minute skit called “The Game of Life.”

Written and directed by a senior at the private, liberal arts college, the skit included four contestants, two African Americans, one Latino, and one white male.

The minorities confronted obstacle after obstacle in the “game of life,” including not being able to afford college and struggling with citizenship papers.

In contrast, the white male continued to advance on the “board” set up on the stage, happily and ignorantly skipping ahead of his darker-skinned peers. Meanwhile, the host informed us in his best gameshow host-caricature voice that the white kid’s college was paid for by his parents. He didn’t have to work, allowing the young man the opportunity to focus solely on his studies.

In talking with my peers, the general consensus was the skit was long, and at times tedious. Yet besides lacking the ability to engage the audience, it appeared to lack something more: a correct representation of society.

Unfortunately, the writer and director of this skit willfully forgot that their representation of “life” grossly over-generalized societal circumstances.

Not all black families cannot afford to send their kids to college. Not all white families can afford college. Not all Latino students grapple with an undocumented status – in fact, most don’t. College loans and grants make it possible for students of all skin tones to attend college without working fulltime. And many states not only accept undocumented students, they give them in-state tuition and scholarships.

The skit also refused to acknowledge that some white students battle against insurmountable obstacles, causing them to struggle with the “game of life.” It failed to recognize in general that life’s struggles do not always correlate with one’s skin color.

Life is not black and white.

The goal of this skit and similar ones was to get my peers riled up and perpetuate a stereotype that life is unfair for everybody – except white people. It promulgated the notion that white people continue to stare at, steal from and ridicule their fellow Americans of different skin tones.

Aside from extreme examples, that’s just not true anymore.

With equality of opportunity, every race writes their own story in the “game of life.”

College Fix contributor Jenna Neumann is a student at Kalamazoo College.

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