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Using White Privilege To Fight Racism: A Young Activist's Dream

On a warm evening in Seattle's Volunteer Park, Anelise Moon-Schruder speaks to an audience of around 50 people. Most of them are white.

"Hey, everybody, my name's Anelise," she begins, then pauses. "Man, you all are so beautiful."

The crowd laughs.

Moon-Schruder continues, "We're trying to organize against racism in order to try to do something with our privilege."

Moon-Schruder, 24, is part of a movement of white people who are coming together to reflect on their privilege. As a young woman raised in a low-income family, she wants more people like her to get involved.

Recently, white people have heard many more conversations about race, and some are trying to figure out how to best engage in them. Some leaders of color say that white people should be talking to each other about race.

"White people should be working with their own stuff versus trying to save everybody," said Devan Rogers, an organizer in Seattle's black community. "They need to figure out themselves before they can help support us."

Moon-Schruder started thinking about race at a very young age and for a reason that you might not expect.

She was born and raised in South Seattle and grew up in a big extended family with 10 other kids. She's the only sibling who is white.

"My brother and my sister are both mixed," explained Moon-Schruder, "and my other sisters are African, African-American."

Her dad worked night shifts, and her mom worked all the time too. But they didn't make much money. She grew up in Section 8 housing.

When Moon-Schruder was in elementary school, her parents sent her and her siblings to a mostly white school in Seattle's north end. She felt alien there. She said that at that age, she identified more with her black neighbors in the south end than with the kids in the north end.

Moon-Schruder didn't see herself as one of the north-end white kids, but other people did. Or at least they treated her differently than her siblings.

"I definitely noticed the difference between how my teachers and staff people in the school would treat my brother as opposed to how they would treat me," she remembered. "He would get in trouble a lot. He got suspended in elementary school."

That wasn't the case with the white students at the school. "It's not like we did anything different than my brother," she said. "I think that's the first time that I can actually remember thinking, there's something else going on."

Moon-Schruder started to see these differences in every part of her life. She grew more and more frustrated. She started to feel a lot of anger toward herself, toward her family and toward white people in general.

At the same time, she wanted to understand the racism she saw around her.

In high school, Moon-Schruder began to talk about race with other young people. She learned that racism wasn't limited to nasty comments and unfair suspensions. It was about people of color not getting the same opportunities as white people.

"When I started learning about the racial disparities I was like, whoa," she remembered. "I started making connections to all the experiences I'd had in my life and the people that I'd grown up with in South Seattle.

So she began to look for ways to work against those racial disparities. And that's how she got involved in events like the one at Volunteer Park.

Some people might not believe that Moon-Schruder has white privilege because she was raised in a low-income family. But she says white privilege doesn't mean having everything in life handed to you. Like many other poor and working-class white people, Moon-Schruder has not lived an easy life.

"We've had to work our whole lives," she said. "We've had to go to the food bank. We've had to not eat."

But to her, white privilege is in the messages she receives from media, in the way that she was treated in schools, and in the way that employers look at her resume.

"Am I gonna choose to just continue my life and benefit from that," asked Moon-Schruder, "or am I gonna actually work towards undoing those systems so that the world doesn't have to be like this?"

So Moon-Schruder joined the white anti-racist moment.

She described the movement as "white people who are intentionally and strategically trying to organize to break down the systems that we've created."

Some people of color support that effort. "White people support people of color by not shouting their opinions when people of color are speaking," said Devan Rogers, "and by also talking to other white people and getting them involved."

Which is exactly what Moon-Schruder is trying to do. She wants to get more people like her talking about privilege. But it's challenging.

"Because of our class experience, a lot of people don't feel like white privilege exists for them," she explained.

And there are practical reasons why more low-income people don't get involved, like busy work schedules.

Moon-Schruder hopes that will change. In the meantime, she's helping organize events for white anti-racists like the one at Volunteer Park.

"Any time there's white people getting together to talk about anti-racism," said Moon-Schruder, "and to be real about themselves – I think that's a success every time."

RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW's program for youth age 16-20ish. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

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