Written By: Dr. Maureen P. Sterling (Settler, she/her, Ph.D., CPA-CMA), Associate Professor of Accounting, Odette School of Business, University of Windsor.
I have a room with a view. Look. It feels wonderful to be here, seeing the ocean, the palm trees swaying, the bright tropical sun and smelling the salt in the air. The sound of the waves breaking on the sand is soothing. Worth every penny. Out on the balcony I can feel that warm breeze. Something about the breezes in the Caribbean that caress, not bite the skin. And those swimming pools, one with a bar right in its middle. All networked, surrounded by sand, sunbathers, and umbrellas. Time to get down there to sip coco locos. Lying in my chair, an errant thought floats in. Be vulnerable and you will humanize education. Eyes closed, I smile imagining how, with my fellowship in hand, I’m ready to be vulnerable. I’ll create brave spaces for my students; safe spaces to share their feelings. Yes! Holistic education services.
A white woman with a tenured position, I will be vulnerable and brave. I will lead the way for my students who have yet to complete my course. I will find the best rubrics to guide their search for marks for bravery and vulnerability. I will reward them with marks for their brave engagement. Where there are marks there is legitimacy. Now what percentage of total marks will I allot for bravery in comparison to vulnerability? My SETS will reward me. Blessed by familiar structures…stark insanity. I open my eyes abruptly. Immediately I’m soothed by the beautiful empty sky but for the pelicans coming in hot to scoop up fish. That system designed by white cis-het men is the obstruction. Memories surface.
What vulnerability do I lay claim to compared to other Constitution of Canada (1982) section 15 rights holders? I remember after decades working in industries like resource extraction and investment banking the daily cuts, verbal blows reminding me I would never merit what men achieve, ever. It is still true. Then I remember a colleague from Gujarat who remarked to me that the discrimination I’d related about myself was small in comparison to hers as a woman who did not have white skin. She asked, where was help from women of my race to hers? I wondered how she imagined I had any resources for that, given the injustice I faced? That was then, and this is now. It was my privilege to ignore truth. I did.
My vulnerability as a Section 15 rightsholder is comparatively non-existent. In my colleague’s world I have no legitimate claim to bravery. I thought I succeeded based on my merit, despite white cis-het men. Far easier to blame their system for my colleague’s suffering, than to take on responsibility for not recognizing that my privilege, in part, got me to third base but not her. I have the choice to ignore, even deny the role that my white privilege played. Change starts in my heart not in white men’s hearts. As another dear friend said long ago many times and with the profound care and grace of a non-white friend ‘You have to come to reality’. I was in my twenties at the time.
I look up again, feel the warm caress of the soft winds, hear the arrythmia of waves on the beach, see silent pelicans diving, the flying fish, the beautiful infinity of blue sky melting into the ocean. I will be brave and humanize education. Now, I will take the rest I deserve. It’s good to feel transformed and come to reality. The reality of privilege is entitlement to bravely pretend I don’t have it. I did.