Life on the other side

Just past noon yesterday, I sat staring at directions to a place about 3 miles away in the heart of the downtown area where I worked. I traced my finger over every turn, memorizing minute details and noting distances. Realized I had to leave at some point, I locked my terminal, grabbed my bag, looked around to check that I had everything I needed and headed for the lobby where a colleague was to meet me.

We were headed to teach a financial literacy class to a group of 9 and 10 year olds. I had never been this anxious in my life. Walking the short distance to the garage, we got in the furnace that was my car and headed out. Navigating half from memory and half relying on the printed sheet my colleague held, we made it with ample time to spare. As we parked and walked inside, I looked around taking in the surroundings. An isolated building at the end of a no entry street. A rectangular block that housed a pool and a huge group of rambunctious teens and pre teens.

Signing it at the desk, we were directed to a computer lab of sorts and told to await our charges. The third team member joined us as we separated out the bags of chips and pretzels for our activity on brand and generic products and how pricing is determined. Laying out colorful construction sheets my mind wandered to what the composition of our class would be. An excited little boy stood at the door, eyes widening at the sight of bags of chips. “Miss, Can anyone join?” he enquired. “Ask your teacher” I replied with a smile and off he ran in search of the staff in charge for this class.

Over the next hour, we grouped the class into teams of five working with each team talking about marketing, brands, advertizing and saving money. Walking away when our volunteering time was up, we drove back in silence. A lot of things about the one hour took me back to my school days. The teasing, the laughter, the unruliness and the scant attention that the students had for what was being told. As we moved from one small group to another, I was impressed by how some groups just bonded and worked so well together while others struggled to find their footing. It was a lesson for me in human dynamics as much as it was on financial literacy for them.

But I think the most important learning came from a remark that one girl in the class made as I went to collect her worksheet. I moved on with profound questions on race and color dominating my gray cells. I mulled over how we are perceived and how we perceive others based on color and race. My drive back home swirled with questions on stereotypes and preconceived notions. My illusory bubble was suddenly burst and I quite was not prepared for feeling so vulnerable. I realized I have a long ways to go in grasping what privilege is. And actually raising my children to be aware of it.

3 comments

  1. What did the girl say? Was it an inappropriate comment on your race or was it the other way like a compliment?

  2. “But I think the most important learning came from a remark that one girl in the class made as I went to collect her worksheet”

    Without knowing what the girl said, it is difficult to relate to this post. If it is not too racist or rude, can you write about it?

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