Arthur is a 20-year old Caucasian male from the Gold Coast area of Connecticut. His town of New Canaan had the highest median family income in the country in 2008 and his dad was, in his words, “a pillar in the community.” This town, for whatever it’s worth, is literally 95% white. Now, I’m laying all of this out because Arthur (I obviously changed his name and have disguised some of his features throughout the entry to protect his privacy which is far too kind of me) proved himself to have never met a person of color in his life when we met.
I was sitting behind the counter looking at my computer when I felt some eyes upon me. I looked up to see this young man in a navy blue blazer, khaki slacks, boat shoes, and some Clubmaster style sunglasses inside the college administration building. I looked up and met his eyes, he looked utterly bewildered. I asked if I could help him in some way and he asked me to please speak with an administrator because he had to move some classes around. This is something he is fully capable of doing from his university portal, but instead of telling him this I simply told him that I was able to help him.
“No….” he replied, “I need to actually have some things changed so I need your supervisor or someone who actually has access to the systems.” I’m not sure to which systems he was referring but I reassured him that I certainly had access to all systems, including those holding his class schedules. We discussed this for about eight minutes before he finally responded, “Look lady, you obviously can’t help me and I’m sure your supervisor in the janitorial department would be shocked that you’re even pretending.”
Now I knew from the beginning of this conversation that Arthur assumed that because I’m a woman of color, he was speaking a language that I could not understand. In part, he’s correct. I cannot understand the language of white privilege but I could understand English and I came to understand that I was the literal first black woman he had ever encountered in his real life. I don’t look like Beyonce or Nicki Minaj or Tina Turner so he was entirely flabbergasted at how to address me.
Finally he allowed me to pull up his class schedule and he was in the process of dropping the classes Civil Rights Litigation and Constitutional History because his dad told him that there was no reason to have any race-related education since he’d be moving back to New Canaan to become a partner in his dad’s firm and they have no need for racial diversity in action or thought. Plus, he pointed out, that class is Friday mornings at 9:00 and there was no way he’d be up by then after Thirsty Thursday.
Arthur never finished his law degree at Peck University. I don’t know what happened to him and I’ve never looked into it.