By Jin Heo, Business Manager
// Sheltered from the unforgiving sun by an awning overhead, we sit stage left on terraces, holding our boxes of Moruccis sandwiches. Seated below us is a school from Oakland, strikingly different from us in terms of racial composition. Some students are fanning themselves with their programs, others are using them for shade; many of them are exposed to the sun. We sit comfortably in the shade.
We are viewing a production of Shakespeare’s Othello, a racially charged play. As part of the production, one of the actors comes on stage in the middle of the play and tells a racist joke, supposedly to numb the audience to what they are about to hear.
“How many police officers does it take to push a black man down the stairs,” he asks. “None. He fell.”
We burst out laughing. Admittedly, I laugh, too.
But then, I notice the students of the other school. And they are not laughing.
Why do we laugh? I ponder this question for the next few days, and although I know the answer almost immediately, I am afraid to accept its validity.
We laugh because we know about these issues but we don’t face them in our everyday interactions. We laugh because we live in a community that allows us to brush these issues under the rug and forget that they exist. We laugh because we are Lafayette Exceptionalists. And that makes everything okay.
Obviously, Lafayette Exceptionalism extends past the race issue. Not long ago, Acalanes held a Supply Drive for Stege Elementary School in Richmond and while I laud the cause behind these efforts, I question the mentality with which Leadership and those who helped organize and run the drive approached the issue.
With what motivation do we participate in these charity efforts? On the surface, we participate because we want to help those who are “less fortunate” than ourselves.
From those that I have talked to regarding the Supply Drive, what alarmed me was the idea that we as residents of Lafayette can pick and choose which low-income school we want to donate to. To myself, and to others, this shows that my peers and even members of the faculty are possibly getting the wrong idea from the Drive. However, this is not to say that I do not appreciate the effort and the intention that went into it. I applaud Leadership and the other organizers in their mission to raise awareness of the gap in wealth between our community and others.
What the Supply Drive has shown is that we are still oblivious to our privilege. While we may be able to see the discrepancy in wealth, we cannot see the discrepancy in agency. Our role as the benefactor gives us incredible power, power that does not lie in the hands of the less wealthy.
Thus, the reason why we participate in these activities is not because we want to help the poor or the less fortunate. We donate because doing so gives us the “warm and fuzzy” feeling inside and makes us feel better as humans. It is not so much for others and more for ourselves.
Underlying all of this is an even greater issue. We are constantly reinforcing our privilege by failing to recognize it.
Many, if not all of us, have heard of the “Lafayette Bubble”. When we think of a bubble, we think of something weak and fragile, something that will pop easily. However, the Lafayette Bubble is just the opposite. Over time, it has become stronger, thicker, and more resistant to popping. We incarcerate ourselves behind this shield that is our privilege and as we reinforce it, we normalize ourselves to it and it becomes harder and harder to see. As Lafayette Exceptionalists, we have turned a blind eye and refused to acknowledge our privilege, but this must come to an end. The Lafayette Bubble is no longer a bubble. It is a prison. And we are trapped.
Special thanks to English teacher Natalie Moore for her help in the creation of this piece.