On My Privilege (Part 1)

According to family lore, I am (on my maternal side) a direct descendant of Thomas Rogers, a signatory of the Mayflower Compact. This means that my family of European origin has been here since November 11th, 1620. On my paternal side, my great-great grandparents arrived from Skulsk, Poland in 1911 in order to chase the immigrant’s dream of a United States paved with opportunities. The history of my family is indelibly linked with the history of white privilege in this country.

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Thank God there are no Polaks on this continent!

This is central to understanding my own perspective on the world. Although I was raised without high class privilege, I have (and will) always invariably remain ensnared in the social hierarchy through my white, heterosexual, male privilege. And, let’s be honest, even in lacking the middle class credentials in the United States, being “poor” here hardly means much. Check for yourself!

When my family came over on the Mayflower, they set out on consolidating power in New England and expanding colonial power over the indigenous peoples. Power was not gifted to them, nor was it earned. It was captured in the process of colonialism, by way of broken treaties and agreements with the Indians.

Throughout the next 250 years, members of my family were never enslaved, discriminated against on the basis of race, nor ever considered to be less than a human being. This is the privilege of skin pigmentation. This is the privilege of social constructions.

Similarly, when my Polish ancestors traveled here in 1911, they were immediately afforded the ability to utilize white privilege. They faced no discrimination due to Jim Crow and, honestly, faced minimal discrimination for their Catholic and Eastern European identities. They lived in Northwest Indiana, which at that time was predominantly Polish and Irish, and they got along without issues. They were able to buy and lease property. Many of my family members didn’t even bother to learn English, instead forcing others (including their black and Irish tenants) to speak to them in Polish.

This is my genealogical white privilege.

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