The Idea of Race As A Number Line

Jose Vilson Jose, Race

I recently had the delightful experience of hanging out with the alumni of Nativity Mission Center, the Lower East Side based Catholic middle school, most of whom I only get to see once a year at these events. This time felt different in a good way; most of their discussion was around my blog and how they’d occasionally read my postings on brotherhood, race, and education. I did most of the listening and makes me wonder if I need to have a tape recorder handy just to yield more of their opinions for this blog.

One of the alumni mentioned the idea of stress-related privilege. He commented that people think they all have the same stress, but they really don’t. Take the case of someone with job-related stresses. If they’re stressed about whether they have enough champagne for a party or made the right amount of copies for a presentation, does that merit “stress” in the way someone who doesn’t even have a job or is working extra hours because they know this might be the only job they could attain? Probably not. The former has stresses that one might consider stresses of privilege versus ones of necessity.

I commented that people have different understandings of privilege because they’re in different parts of the socioeconomic spectrum. It’s like you’re on a number line. This person could be starting at +5 and you’re at -5, and they think they’re at 0 because they’re facing forward, nevermind that when you face forward, that zero’s five steps from you! We laughed. People wouldn’t understand the idea of getting a head start because they’re so stuck on the ideas of “personal responsibility.”

But whiskey and gingers weren’t fuel for great conversation about education and social disparity. I’d rather have others’ ideas when I can’t verbalize my own. With alumni who are working from the same point on the number line, we have a similar perspective on getting past that original handicap.

Jose, who believes in black mathematics