Sara Roza

United States

My name is Sara and I love to write. Any advice is greatly appreciated!

Message to Readers

Black Lives Matter

When I Realized I'm White

November 23, 2020

   When I was in elementary school there was this thing called CBGs which stood for ‘caught being good.’ It was basically a little slip of paper that students would receive from teachers or staff for ‘being an exemplary student.’ Whether that was doing your homework, standing quietly in line with your hands behind your back, or just not being annoying in general because we all know elementary kids can be very annoying without even trying. Students could then turn in the CBGs for prizes. Lollipops, erasers or even extra recess for the whole class if you could get enough. In our school, these things were like gold. Everyone wanted them. People would trade Pokemon cards and Pixie sticks for these slips of paper because they could get you out of a homework assignment or earn you five extra minutes on the bean bag. But, this story isn’t about how kids are taught from the age of six that pieces of paper have value and the more you have the better you are. This story is about the day I realized I'm white.
    One day in fourth grade we were covering Martin Luther King Jr. We read a part of his speech and talked about how important he was in ending segregation. This was the first time I was learning about segregation and what it entailed. I was shocked and appalled at how humans could see someone as less than because of their skin color. My best friend at the time was black and I remember thinking about how we wouldn’t have been allowed to play with each other during recess if it weren’t for Martin Luther King Jr. We wouldn’t even be going to the same school. But it was all over. Right? No more segregation means no more racism. Right? 
    After we finished the lesson my teacher took out a stack of CBGs. All twenty kids perked up, eyes alight. I could already see wheels turning in heads thinking about what to ‘buy’ next. Maybe we could all pool together and get popsicles for the class? 
   My teacher starts walking around the room. I’m the first to receive a CBG. I’m confused on why my teacher has decided to randomly give them out, but I’m not going to complain. I expect her to continue down my row and give the rest of the kids a CBG, but she doesn't. She skips the whole row and goes onto the next one. A few kids get one in that row and a few in the next. This goes on for the whole class, some kids getting one and some not. We all looked at each other in confusion, but there were mixed reactions. Some of the kids who didn't get one looked down in sadness, assuming they did something wrong, while some spoke out saying this wasn’t fair. Some of the kids that did get one took it reluctantly, realizing this wasn’t fair, while some, in typical fourth grade fashion, rubbed it in their neighbor’s faces and laughed.
  When the teacher made a full lap around the room she came back to the front.
  “Who did I give the CBGs to?” she asked.
  We looked around but nobody said anything. Nobody knew. It looked random. No specific pattern like we learned about in math class, nothing in one area like in geography. We were stumped. After a few more seconds she gave us the answer.
  “I gave one to all the white kids.”
   We looked around again. She was right. The handful of white kids in the class had a CBG in their hand. For once, nobody said anything. Not even the kid who never shuts his mouth. We didn't know what to say. What could we say? 
All of a sudden, the air in that fourth grade classroom felt heavy. Some kids looked sad, some looked angry, I just felt gross. Now, my teacher did eventually give the rest of the class CBGs, turning this whole situation into a lesson on how segregation worked and how it’s all over and the world is fair now. No more unequal treatment. Everybody gets CBGs.
And this is where the school system messes up. Because, yes, everyone did get a CBG. But at the end of the day, I got that CBG first. That was when I realized, I will always get that CBG first. That job, that opportunity, that recognition. I will always get it first. I will never be deprived of something because of my race. There is a word for this that I was not aware of at the time. Privilege. I didn't know what white privilege was. That day I learned.
   While that day did teach me something, it didn't teach me everything. I learned about race and my own biases little by little. I’m still learning and I will always be learning. Even as a kid, I spent a lot of time on the internet. Countless hours watching videos about music, beauty and entertainment somehow led me to a specific Youtube personality that I owe a lot to. His name is Nathan Zed. While he made various videos about anything from criticizing prank videos to skits, there were several serious and well spoken videos about subjects I never saw being discussed. One of those being police brutality. He posted a video around the time of Trayvon Martin’s death in which he explained what happened and provided several other examples of police officers using their power unjustly toward black people. I was raised to view the police as the good guys, as the protectors. My mom taught me that if I ever got lost to find someone in a uniform. That day I learned black kids my age get taught by their parents how to act around people in a uniform so they don't get shot. How to not look suspicious. To keep their hands visible and not make any sudden movements. As sad as it is, I’m glad I learned that. Because, once again, that privilege was shown to me. 
   So, since that day in fourth grade, I’ve learned a lot. Something huge I learned is this: it’s my job to listen. If you’re white, you listen. If someone tells you something you said or did was racist, you listen. When a person of color is speaking, you shut up and listen. It’s not my job to speak over people of color or silence any voices. I have to use my privilege to amplify voices and be a support system. Use me as a stepping stool to be seen. Tell me what you need. Lead the way. Because this isn’t just about CBGs anymore.

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11 Comments
  • Just_A_Memory

    This is stunning~ 0o0 It's so personally written, and your style is something to be envied


    about 2 months ago
  • EliathRose

    Your storytelling is really personal and beautiful. This is such an important issue and you've helped explain your experiences with this as well as tell it in a way that could even teach the readers the same lesson you learned. I love this outlook on racial inequality! Great piece!


    about 2 months ago
  • SunV

    This is so powerful! I love your interconnection with CBG's, and how you've painted such a picture that anyone can feel it.

    Personally, I'm on the other side of the coin. I'm not white or black, but I guess, if I were to segregate myself like that, though I wouldn't like to, I would be black. I think anyone, regardless of your race, has an equal chance to speak up. We just need to find the right place and time to do so.


    about 2 months ago
  • ~timestamp~

    I loved this.
    When you pointed out that you were the first to get a CBG, that meant a lot to me. It’s not often that I see someone that’s so self aware of their privilege; you should be really proud of this piece -it speaks volumes.


    about 2 months ago
  • mirkat

    this is so freaking powerful and impactful and important and i am so glad i clicked on this... what a moving story... you connecting and displayed and conveyed so much and wow, i'm blown away... and honestly i just want to use paisley blue's comment... so inspirational and really society and us and humans and the world is so messed up and thank u for this <3<3<3


    about 2 months ago
  • Paisley Blue

    gosh yes. as a white girl myself i feel this. i ache for the members of the black community that i know are hurting--and yet i feel bad, because i truly dont--CAN'T--understand what they are going through. this speech is empowering and inspirational. yes. i love it <333


    about 2 months ago
  • Lý Thường Kiệt

    This is a brilliant essay. I would have liked to see more about your plans for change, but your portrayal of the issue is great. I encourage you to keep exploring other perspectives on the issue.


    about 2 months ago
  • AccountA

    I’m speechless, I feel this every day. My best friend is black and sometimes I really feel genuinely bad for being white because so many white people do horrible things


    about 2 months ago
  • abby.a

    this is so important. thank you for sharing this. i don't understand people who say white privilege doesn't exist when i, a white person, experience it everyday... i just have to look. and that's the bad part. i have to look. <33


    about 2 months ago
  • YA

    You are such an amazing writer and that + the topic just made this all the more amazing. The way you used your experience in 4th grade with CBGs and related it back to racism is so amazing and well said. Honestly, if this was a speech, I'm sure you'd get a standing ovation!


    about 2 months ago
  • BlueWolf

    This was a hard hitting subject and it was explained with passion! It was explained and written really well! Fantastic job!!!


    about 2 months ago