W.P.F. = White Privileged Female
“Wrap the bracelet tightly around your wrist to ensure each imprinted letter is displayed clearly,” my assertive new boss commanded as I adjusted my silky, violet blouse and neatly ironed black pencil skirt. I fastened the bracelet and reached for the black laptop in my crimson, leather briefcase.
“Remind me your name again,” the lean, tall, African-American woman peered down at me from above the stem line of her floral-framed reading glasses.
Removing the metallic ID from my briefcase, I snapped it in place on the collar of my blouse, just to the left of my golden cross necklace. “My name is Elizabeth, but I prefer to be addressed as ‘Miss C,’” I replied with a smile, eager to begin my first day as a Charter school teacher in Chicago.
“Elizabeth, W.P.F.,” she responded with a snarky glance at the bracelet now squeezing my delicate, bony, white wrists. “Welcome to Richards High. Your shared classroom is on the second floor, B205D. Your smile is lovely, my dear, but be careful how you wear it. There are few of your kind working here.”
Few of your kind working here? I thought to myself as I meandered the dim hallways in attempt to find the classroom where I was to teach. Walking up two flights of faux stone pebble patterned tile stairs, I grimaced at the bracelet I had to wear, understanding its significance, but loathing the idea of being forced to wear a visible label, especially on the first day of school. Wasn’t my complexion and gender more than enough to handle the label already imposed upon me?
The August humidity seeped through the walls and created a film of condensation on the soon-to-be crowded lockers and now foggy trophy display cases. Approaching my new classroom, I immediately noticed that on the wired glass panel above the door, a white sign with intimidating, bold red block letters proclaimed: “WTF! Get out, you WPF.” A shudder whelmed my spine, knowing that sign was directed at me. Staring at the message, I recalled my former job as a suburban schoolteacher, where the only things on the glass above the doorway to my classroom included a ‘gun free zone’ sticker and a poly-chromatic sign displaying my name, subject, and most beloved quote from literature: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.
Entering the run-down former lab science classroom, now being re-purposed for instruction in English, I gazed at the army green chalkboard concealing the cracked paneling on the back wall of the room. The chalkboard also aptly made use of those three haunting letters: “W.P.F: White Privileged Female.”
Still wary of the bracelet, and for the first time in my life, my whiteness and apparent privilege, I stared at the board as years of teaching experience alluded me. W.P.F., W.P.F…White Privileged Female. I could not shake it from my mind. Why did I have to wear this bracelet? Why did the color of my skin matter? Why was it being assumed I was a product of privilege simply because I was white? I was poor as hell, accepting a menial salary and living in a city of taxes and poverty, did they know this?
Frustrated by circumstance, but motivated by opportunity to cultivate knowledge, I neatly arranged my lesson plan book on the corner desk and looked over my welcome notes and seating chart as I had done on first days in so many years past.
Anxiously waiting for the first bell to ring, I moved across the room and fidgeted near the doorway, attempting to camouflage the sweat pulsing furiously under my arms and discreetly sliding my blouse down my right arm to cover the bracelet on my wrist.
“Elizabeth Clarkson!” A voice from the end of the hallway bellowed. “Exactly what do you think you’re doing?”
“Um, I…well,” stumbling over my words like condensed miniature marshmallows had flooded my mouth, I fearfully glanced at Principal Shadlon.
“Elizabeth, W.P.F. Get used to it. This isn’t some game where you pretend you’re like us. You have something none of these students do and they have every right to know about it.” Shadlon’s voice elevated with the steam of rage.
“But…” I began. “But I don’t underst — — ,” Principal Shadlon aggressively snapped her fingers. “Enough! That’s enough! You’re here to teach, not preach. Ya, hear?!”
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry,” I followed as I pulled my sleeve back up to show off the bracelet I would wear for the next nine months. “Do you hear me?” the grammarian in me muttered.
A glare of disdain and disappointment shielded her darkening eyes as she marched down the hallway towards the stairs that led to the metal detectors protecting the school’s main entrance.
“Happy first day!” I sneered under my breath as the first bell officially rang. A rowdy hoard of 11th grade teens clenching iPhones and toting unyielding backpacks snickered at me as they entered the classroom greeting me with a host of explicit language, middle fingers, and ‘skinny white bitch don’t know shit’ and other phrases of the like.
I won’t even have a voice. All I am to these people is white. That’s the only thing they see.
After the last student was situated inside the classroom, I entered B205D and slammed the heavy wooden door behind me. I stared out at a class of 42 students cloaked in every hue, but white. “WPF! WPF! C’mon, you rich, white bitch,” came the antagonizing chants.
Rolling back my sleeves even further to more proudly show off my bracelet, I looked at the letters on my wrist, above the door, and those gawking me from the rust covered green chalkboard. W…P…F…
Momentarily, I both loved and hated myself. Then suddenly, my shoulders collapsed as my wrist fell to my side from the ambient weight of the bracelet. I sighed deeply and attempted to compose myself in efforts to conceal a newfound sense of shame. “So this is what it’s like,” I chided as I studied the varied expressions on the faces of my students. I was fortunate to have never felt this type of racial hatred before in my life. And then it hit me. “This is what it’s like. This is what it’s like to be a minority. To be…to be like one — of them.”