Marissa King discovers her unearned status

By Erin Albrecht – Horizon Contributing Writer

Jogging by what seemed to be “typical scene” where she resided in Phoenix, Marissa King noticed a police officer yelling a group of Latinos and blacks. He then proceeded to ask, “Hey, sweetie, why are you running in this neighborhood? You need to go home.”

Marissa remembers thinking, “Why did I hear this police officer yelling one moment and talking gently to me in the next?”

An instructor of education at Hesston College, Marissa has a unique story that she shared about in a chapel last semester. Growing up in a primarily white community where white was the norm, she never grasped the what it meant to be a part of the majority. That changed when she started a career in Phoenix after graduating from Hesston College.

“I hadn’t really thought about being white much before Phoenix” said Marissa.

After Hesston, Marissa pursued an education career at Mexico University, and settled in Phoenix later to teach. She wanted to live and work in the same place. Her friends and colleagues warned her over and over again not to live in the neighborhood where she eventually chose to reside.

Although her new community had been criticized by some of her peers, the primarily black and Latino neighborhood was not as it had been portrayed. Her neighbors constantly looked out for her and made sure she was OK.

“So there I was, living in a neighborhood with some of the kindest people I have met,” said Marissa.

Living in a dangerous community was something that didn’t even phase Marissa until others had mentioned it to her. While she said not all of her experiences were positive, she was pleased she had found a home.
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“Overwhelmingly, I found my neighbors to be warm, protective, and welcoming” said Marissa.

She started to notice the differences between the treatment each ethnicity received and realized that being white often resulted in preferential treatment.

“I have to admit that I was shocked and dismayed to discover the extent of my white privilege as I became increasingly aware of my unearned status,” said Marissa. “I did nothing to make that police officer believe that I should be protected. I didn’t earn that; it was given to me and yet not offered to my neighbors.”

Looking back, Marissa attributes part of her appreciation for diversity to her Hesston College experience. Coming to a school like Hesston, where most of the students come from outside of Kansas, Marissa was surrounded by a wide variety of ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.

“It provided a safe environment but yet enough discomfort to get me out of my comfort zone,” said Marissa.

Still, she was never fully aware of her “unearned entitlement” like when she lived in Phoenix.


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