Educational Privilege and Being Caught in the Middle - Higher Education
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Educational Privilege and Being Caught in the Middle

by Donna Y. Ford


Donna Y. Ford

Donna Y. Ford

White privilege ― unearned ― is a topic and reality that I grapple with daily. It is everywhere. Yes, everywhere. And I don’t see many beneficiaries giving up associated privileges. Nor do I see many sharing them with non-Whites, especially those who are Black and Hispanic/Latino.

In some way or another, I do realize that, despite facing racism and sexism, I do have educational privilege. This privilege is earned. I worked long and hard for my degrees.

But, I can’t always cash in on this privilege due to racial inequities and sometimes gender inequities, but being highly educated and at an elite university does benefit me and loved ones on occasion. When no one knows that I am Black (say, during a call), I benefit more. When in person, the privileges often diminish, turning into pennies and even more discrimination and oppression.

Why? Because I am not supposed to be so accomplished as a Black person and/or Black female.

Here are a few educational privileges that come to mind.

  • When I tell White people where I work, they are so impressed that services improve in hospitals, restaurants, and other businesses.
  • When Whites see that my credit cards says Donna Y. Ford, Ph.D., they may not ask me to show another ID … and rarely check my signature on the back of the credit card.
  • When vendors read Donna Y. Ford, Ph.D., on my check, they give me this curious (surprised?) look and may not ask for photo ID. Of course, this depends on how I am dressed.
  • When I go to the bank and the clerk sees my checking and savings balance, that curious look of “hmm” is the first reaction then some level of respect or at least not disrespect. That comes when I speak mainstream English in many cases.
  • When I sign for the check at a restaurant, I am often asked what type of “doctor” I am. The server now works harder to please me. Yes, for the tip as it is assumed I will now tip larger because I am a “doctor” (even though stereotypes say Black are poor tippers).

This short list is by no means complete. Having shared it, I reiterate that White privilege is unearned; educational privilege is earned. But as a Black female scholar, I am caught in the middle.

Dr. Donna Ford is a professor in the Department of Special Education and Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University.

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