I was assigned the topic of “affluence being the new risk factor” in my Resilience class. I was UNCOMFORTABLE and LOST. I kept envisioning myself fumbling at the front of the room in front of the class. I asked God why I had accidentally signed up for this topic when anyone would be better suited than me to give the presentation.
He answered in the most surprising of ways.
I usually love public speaking and presentations, but I procrastinated making this presentation until the morning of the presentation day. The task, for me, was to give a presentation on the prevalence of substance abuse and somatic symptoms among the affluent.
My first instinct was to say that this topic was irrelevant because people who are affluent can seek help for any problems so the risk is really not as problematic as those without access/resources, but then I realized I wasn’t being my compassionate and empathetic self.
Any person can face problems.
I remember meeting so many people during undergrad who, on the surface level, appeared to have it all. Yet, they confessed to feeling the most empty.
Reading #whitegirlproblems on twitter is often funny, but some #whitegirlproblems are often serious.
So I vowed to take others on the journey with me, from funny to serious. I began by showing a satire about a white girl crying because she didn’t get the newest iPod and had to get in the backseat when she drove with her mom #whitegirlproblems.
People laughed, then I had them list all the reasons people may abuse drugs/alcohol. Then, I asked them to list protective factors. The risk list still doubled the protective factor list.
I then proceeded to engage them in discussions of particular risks affluent families face; such as how some children have absent parents because being rich comes with working long hours. If we are able to sympathize with the struggles single mothers face, I thought, then we can sympathize with a boy who only sees his father some weekends because the father is so busy. It has been found that parental depression, which often comes with working long hours in a high stress job, can lead to risky activity and depression in boys (Absent fathers was a topic everyone was able to discuss when the topic was NOT in relation to affluent white home).
Some people in my predominantly white and affluent class began to look a bit sullen.
Some faces looked like mine each week, as we discuss poverty and a face of each of the children I’ve worked with previously pops into mind. Each week, it’s personal to me. When one girl hypothesizes that maybe some people just want to stay in jail (a justification for recidivism), I think of a friend who so desperately would love to see her father beyond visitation hours or of a person I know who missed the birth of their child while being in jail. How the system, and not the people, are broken….
And that was when it hit me…
Maybe I was given this task to turn the tables and shed light on the notion that “with great power, comes great responsibility”
And great risk?
We never talk about white privilege. It is unspoken. In a white society, white people ARE privileged…but white people are not immune.
One girl said, “I mean what’s the solution? Put kids who are having trouble picking between colleges in therapy?”
Everyone chuckled…but then I shot back “If that is leading to self injury/depression.”
Some people nodded.
I ended with a discussion of prescription drug use among the affluent and how it was slowly changing to heroin due to crackdowns on fake prescriptions. I mentioned Cory from glee and how he didn’t look like someone you’d think did drugs- but in fact that face is by no means an exception.
As I ended my presentation, I felt satisfied. My professor emailed me today and I couldn’t help but smile.
Thank you for making the presentation to the class yesterday. It was clear that you have creativity, knowledge, and passion! Your presentation style indicates that you have command of the material and enjoy fostering an interesting group discussion. Thank you for contributing to the learning environment of the class.
Where did the notion that white people didn’t have problems come from, and what are the implications?
I pray people will develop sensitivity for all cultures and that comes with understanding that white is not right.
White privilege does not equal immunity.
Being white does not mean you have no problems.
If my young black girls think that white girls their age have no real problems, then what are the implications when they do have problems -that they are inferior?
Affluent white children are at risk for exhibiting problem behaviors #whitegirlproblems
Thank you for reading!
P.S. #whitegirlsolutions are a different conversation for a different time!