As the nation pauses on Monday to honor the vision and efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., some professors at Gordon are also considering his impact on their work. Katie Knudsen, adjunct professor of Christian Theology, and The Great Conversations, and Coordinator of Academically-Based Service-Learning in the Office of Community Engagement, offers the following personal essay in recognition of the issues Dr. King raised as he pursued racial reconciliation.
A “Privileged” Life
I grew up in suburban New Jersey in a conservative Jewish home. My town was largely white, but more diverse by far than the area I currently call home, the North Shore of Massachusetts. My best friends were some fellow Jews, a Korean and an African American from my neighborhood. Even so, I never thought much about race and was never really confronted with it. When we celebrated MLK Day, I was content knowing my ancestors were busy being harassed in Eastern Europe during the time of slavery and Jim Crow.
Clearly, it was a naive response.
College, however, was an awakening. At Duke University in North Carolina, far from home and the culture to which I was accustomed, I became the first Jew a few of my classmates had ever met. There was an enormous population of African Americans, which was exciting for me. I loved getting to know black students, listening to their music in our freshmen dorm, learning from them how to straighten my very-curly hair.
Some things were more unsettling. Every single cook, janitor, and landscaper I met at Duke was African American. It was uncomfortable always being served by black people, but they were the people in the area who needed the jobs, so some sort of “affirmative action” for white service people would have been inappropriate. I began to wonder, though, why so many African Americans were seeking such low-paying work.
Which brings me to the most emotionally-draining, yet life-changing class of my educational career. The year before graduation, I registered for “Race and Education in America,” a class my now-husband and I quickly renamed “Why White People Suck.” The first few weeks in the class were difficult. My Black and Latino peers behaved differently in this class than I was used to them behaving. Many were angry and combative, and they frequently focused on this thing called “white privilege.” Continue reading