As a white woman growing up in a white community in America, I have learned that I was born with a life jacket. Each citizen is born into the waters that America presents to us. And among these waters, each citizen is expected to learn to swim and thrive. With the assistance of my college-educated, steady paycheck-earning parents who provide me with basic and excess needs, guidance to the deep waters, and a community to thrive in, otherwise known as my life jacket, I learned to swim.
Sadly, the America I live in today expects everybody to learn to swim with or without a life jacket. I realize that life jackets aren’t chosen by the wearers: the wearers are chosen by the circumstances. I was given a life jacket, a product of my race, location, and economic status.
Unlike black people who are slowly gaining rights through the U.S. law, my ancestors and I have always had rights. While men of my own race were and are becoming U.S. presidents, the men of the African race are still fighting for the opportunity to live the American Dream. The majority of the residents in my small town are white; the majority of inner-city residents are black. Black people specifically encounter the shortage of life jackets. This polarization of communities in which differing races live creates a cycle that neither promotes nor provides diversity among our schools, cities, and occupations.
As I have grown up, I have had the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, activities that prove beneficial to my current and future contexts. Unfortunately, many students lacking life jackets are more focused on having a job to support themselves and their families. Many of these teens are disproportionately black; many of these teens are exposed to peers that are being incarcerated; many of these teens are navigating currents and riptides that pull them back into the cycle.
When the lack of life jackets becomes an issue for minorities, I feel guilty. There are times when I feel pressured to remove my life jacket in order to create equality and reduce my privilege. However, by removing my life jacket, I would struggle in the waters, as many people already do. Asking people to remove their life jacket to create equality would cause our country to regress; whereas, giving life jackets would create progress. The path to progress for equality is not the removal of life jackets: it is creating and carrying out plans to provide to those who don’t have one, providing opportunities, second chances, and communities to thrive in. Through doing so, each citizen is given the equal opportunity to swim.
Rather than feeling guilty, I will feel hopeful. Progress will be made when we decide to help one another. It will be this generation- the one that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of- that will grant all U.S. citizens, specifically the black citizens that have been disregarded previously, life jackets.
Claire Borgerding is a Minster High School student in the CollegeCredit Plus program at Edison State Community College.