Val Brown’s Question

Val Brown posted this question the other day:

She wrote a whole moment on it, and you should spend 10-15 minutes reading.

I’ll be honest, when I first saw it, I scrolled past. It seemed like a trick question, so many “what-ifs” came up, and I didn’t really have the mental energy to put into it. That said, as I see more and more people commenting, and some friends have encouraged me to respond or consider, I’m now sitting down to think. And as others have been pressed into answering with a specific number, I’ll do the same: my number is roughly $500,000.

Rationale: Over the course of my expected career as a teacher, I expect to earn  ~$1,750,000. ($50,000/year for another 35ish years). If I all of a sudden become Black, I expect things are going to get a lot harder, and I would love to have a cushion against the times I’m likely to lose a job or not get a job, have health problems, and struggle to get a “fair” (read: white person’s) shake. I don’t expect it will become impossible to get a job, nor that my chosen field of education will make it impossible for me to continue on a similar path. I expect I’ll have to start watching what I say a lot more, and that I’ll have to proactively protect myself with more vigilance than I currently do.

I should point out that I’ve had the benefit of not answering first, have been able to read other people’s responses and consider them, and I’ve given myself most of the day to ponder this. I absolutely get folks hedging and saying they’d want tens of millions or more – that was my gut reaction, too, but I suppose I don’t think that me turning Black means I need enough protection to have the means of Beyoncé.

I do, however, concede that I personally feel absolutely no right to ask for that half-a-million dollars (a HUGE amount of money). Black people are born Black into this world (especially America) as is and they’ve gotten no reparations at all. (I do think this mental exercise makes a strong case for them.) It’s me desperately clinging to my privilege that made me instantly think I would need the money. That it could possibly buffer me from the loss of privilege.

I wish I could say zero without lying. I get why reading these responses have been hurtful (Sherri Spelic wrote a really thoughtful blog on this that you should DEFINITELY read). That my number is so high is a signal to me not just that we have a problem around race in this country (Captain Obvious, reporting for duty), but that I have a lot of work to do on two fronts. 1) Doing my part to rectify the situation, by using the privilege I have to bring attention and change to the issues and 2) Continuing to analyze, acknowledge, and understand my privilege. If I’m very honest with myself, I can confront it when I’m “in the mood”, but today, I really just wanted to be excited that summer was starting! Yay! I can do what I want with my time! And honestly, sitting down to write this is not what I had in mind. I was thinking about drawing and wine and a patio. That’s privilege.

I feel VERY uncomfortable publishing this. I really want to buy some time to think it through more, hedge more bets, and double check that it’s okay. But as a dear, beloved friend of mine has routinely pointed out to me, it is only when we get to a vulnerable place that we can learn and grow.

I apologize deeply if my response hurts folk. I’m certainly not done thinking about it, and I would greatly appreciate it if any of you want to challenge, question or push me to expand on any part.

Author: Ms. P

Math Teacher in Minneapolis, MN.

One thought on “Val Brown’s Question”

  1. I really appreciate that you took this on, Annie. It’s a hard question without a great answer but it serves its original purpose of making all manner of white privilege visible to its holders. The invisible knapsack is one thing, putting a price tag on its full contents is quite another.
    I commend everyone who has mustered the courage to respond, offer a sum and talk about their thought process, publicly no less. Thank you for this honest and searching reflection.


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