Cultural myths and white privilege in Southeast Seattle

Last week was White Privilege Awareness Week at the University of Washington. As a student there, I was reminded of my years at Franklin High School, from which I graduated in 2003.

While there I was enrolled in the humanities program, where the intensive studying prepared me for college. However, I still recall being one of a handful of minorities in this program, while many other minority students were enrolled in non-humanities or non-advanced placement classes.

Franklin is a predominantly minority-populated school. Only 10 percent of Caucasians make up the school's demographics as of October 2005, according to an annual report published by the school. So why did it seem that the entire 10 percent of Caucasians encompassed a majority of seats in these humanity courses?

While attending the University of Washington I also noticed the ratio between minorities and whites in a 500-person lecture hall. Of the 27,488 undergraduate students enrolled in autumn 2005, only 9,396 (34 percent) identified themselves as a minority, according to the university's office of registrar.

Had I not been a student at UW, I would not have been exposed to the term white privilege. Even though I had never heard of the term, I knew the concept. At Franklin growing up as a minority, I experienced situations that made me realize that I could never become equal to my Caucasian classmates.

Our society seems to portray some minorities, specifically Asian-Pacific Islander Americans, as being very successful: They pursue high levels of education in order to enter lucrative professional fields. However, many segments of this population still face institutionalized racism. This was further explored during the UW's White Privilege Awareness Week.

White privilege is an academic term that explains the benefits and immunities that white citizens receive compared to minorities. From those benefits and immunities, it is their positions of power in society that create institutionalized racism in private or government entities. Essentially, whites are creating entities by and for themselves. They are then able to influence policy-making or create organizations in which other ethnicities attempt to overcome and succeed in, such as the school systems, the SATs, ACTs or other standardized tests.

Much of the discussions during White Privilege Awareness Week focused on the whites vs. blacks dynamic. Granted, blacks have been the most prevalent group to face racism, discrimination and oppression in the United States, when you consider issues such as slavery and Jim Crow laws. But what about Asian-Pacific Islander Americans? They include 60 different ethnicities, such as Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Samoans and Filippino Americans. What is our place in this equation of institutionalized racism and the way white privilege affects us?

As previously stated, there is still a perception in many communities that Asian-Pacific Islander Americans are doing well and living a comfortable life. However, in King County the poverty rate among this group is 24 percent compared with 8 percent in King County overall, according to the Asian American Justice Center census in 2000. In addition, 37 percent of adults in this group do not have a high-school degree, compared to 10 percent of King County residents overall.

Based on these statistics it is apparent that institutionalized racism impacts individuals in this classification, and not only blacks. However, what are members in our community doing in order to deal with this issue? Dwight Mizoguchi, a Human Services rep for the City of Seattle gives one example. Through an Asian-Pacific Islander Undoing Institutionalized Racism (APIUIR) workshop, members of the Samoan community were confronted with the fact that 70 percent of Samoan students in the Seattle School District were not on track for graduation or had already dropped out.

Individuals then organized the first Samoan Parent Teacher Association to address, and find solutions to counter, this alarming figure. More importantly, the group has generated attention and continues to educate members in the Seattle School District and the community that institutionalized racism is still a problem.

It is grassroots efforts such as these that can impact, educate and ultimately create change in our communities. As a Franklin alumna, I would love to see more Asian-Pacific Islander American students enroll in humanities and advanced-placement courses, where they might encompass at least half of the students in the 500-seat lecture hall at the UW.

Beacon Hill resident Alice L. Liang may be contacted through[[In-content Ad]]