Student describes experiencing white privilege during study abroad in Spain

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It was around 8 p.m. on a November night in Barcelona, Spain when I was confronted with my white privilege.

A boy around the age of 16 approached my American-born friend of Taiwanese descent, repeatedly saying “Ni Hao” in an offensive Chinese accent.

He laughed and walked away while she rightfully held up both middle fingers and said “Fuck you” in a clear American accent.

I was mortified because I had never seen such blatant racism before. I asked, “Has that ever happened to you before?!”

She calmly replied, “All the time, especially in Europe.” At that exact moment, I realized my race has never been and will never be publicly acknowledged or discriminated against.

I will never understand what it’s like to feel othered or judged solely on my appearance.

That incident bothered me for weeks, and clearly still does, but I don’t know what the right answer is.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson. Though I can never fully relate to what my friend goes through, I tried to put myself in her shoes and imagine how I would feel.

I listened to her express how uncomfortable she felt when her peers always called her by first and last name because it acknowledges her race.

While abroad, her professor was taking attendance and noticed another Asian name was listed on the roster.

The girl hadn’t showed up to class, so he went over to my friend and asked, “Is this you?”

She answered: “No”. He asked again – he wouldn’t really take no for an answer.

He was confused: “There’s no other Asian girl here, so it must be you, even though you said in perfect English with an American accent that it’s not you,” is what I imagine went through his head.

Hearing this angered me.

He not only ignorantly acknowledged her race by assuming the Asian name was hers without thinking there could be another student enrolled in the class, but he also made the entire class aware of it.

She sunk down in her chair while he returned to the front of the class.

How can we break the social and economic system put in place that oppresses blacks and other minorities?

Look at all the white faces around campus.

Now go off campus and take a walk down the street in the heart of Schenectady.

We are literally surrounded by an example of this system.

My time in Europe made me realize how fortunate I am to live in the melting pot that is America.

It is time to acknowledge white privilege and make an effort to change it.

Everyone deserves an equal opportunity, and to feel comfortable in their own skin.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting how you can make such generalizations based upon this experience. And “white privilege” is no less a racist generalization of an entire race then thinking all blacks are violent and criminals. Thinks happen when you go abroad. I was in Vietnam with my brother and a Vietnamese man out of the blue attacked my brother. Was it because of our race?

  2. Maybe she should have held up both middle fingers and said “fuck you” to the professor instead of sinking down in her chair

  3. I appreciated this article very much because it was purely your observations (no political agenda). When we observe we improve our ability to empathize. When we empathize, we understand better. The world needs more observing and fewer opinions. As the old saying goes, “We have two eyes and one mouth for a reason.”

    I’d highly encourage the previous commenters to take this into consideration as they all had poor etiquette, grammar, and spelling. That’s just my opinion. 😉

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