Monday, March 07, 2016

My White Privilege

Most of us have heard the term by now, "white privilege". It means different things to different people, and is actually a bit different in many cases. So, what is "my" white privilege, and why does it matter?

First, white privilege doesn't mean you are a racist person. It actually means that you don't have to think about race. For example, whenever I read a book written in this country, I typically assume it is written about/by/for white people, until and unless I read otherwise. Unfortunately, movies are much the same way. To some extent, this is because we apply our own world view to what we read, but to a greater extent, it's because those are the pocketbooks most likely to spend money on those products, so that's who the "main characters" are based upon.

Some other examples? It means if I were to be pregnant in a bad situation, the majority of people would not ask, are you getting an abortion? It means if I were to be unemployed, I would have a much easier time finding employment. It means if I go to the park or library, I am much more likely to see people of my own race. A friend of mine who is white, but has adopted a black child, noted that when she goes to the park during the day, it is typically very easy to spot her child in the park, Occasionally she attends some black homeschool groups, and says she's always amused by the fact that she forgot to remember what her son was wearing that day, and finds it difficult to spot him from a great distance away (and no she wasn't saying all black people look the same, and apparently she did need new glasses).

Now, let's talk a bit about racism. Many people are offended by the term white privilege, because it's not something they did and they feel that they can't change that aspect of themselves. Well, that is true, I can't be any less white. So what can I do, once I've recognized my white privilege?

  1. Be understanding of the hatred coming from Black America. I have a few activist friends on Facebook, and the vitriol against White America is real. There is hatred that has built up, because things "should" be better by now. Instead the hatred on both sides is only beginning to increase due to media coverage and political machinations. Our generation is unique, in that our parents have seen some activism, but for the most part we have been sheltered from it. Understand that there are real reasons behind the hatred, and use that understanding to react with kindness and love.
  2. Stand up against racism and white privilege. If someone makes a comment that even could be considered racist, stand up and say something (kindly). For instance, a few friends at the playground asked if the downtown (small town) parks were "safe" for their very young kids. I asked some leading questions to confirm that they were talking about physical safety (that their toddlers wouldn't be able to run into the parking lot, street or woods) rather than the color of the skin of other people at the park. I find this difficult to do myself, because, while I'm always shocked and upset when someone makes a racist comment, I don't always say something right away. My personality is to intensely judge it as wrong, but then I wonder whether they just meant "poor" not black or I excuse their behavior because they are "from another generation" and no one taught them against hatred. There is no excuse, but answer in love. Ask leading questions, challenge their beliefs, and then address the true problem of underlying hurt and selfish desires.
  3. Don't answer hate with hate. This goes to conversations with white or black friends, acquaintances, and family, as well as those of another race. It's easy to jump on a stranger who has done something wrong to you. It's easy to make excuses for those who have been hurt by racism (whether they are white or black, racism hurts us all). It's much harder to answer a friend in love. When we've been hurt or seen someone we love hurt someone else, we can either brush it under the rug, or react strongly. Whatever your natural inclination, take a breath first. Find out their reason and address it gently. I'm sorry that someone in high school called you so white you were "near death" or ignored you in front of your boyfriend because he was black and you weren't, or forced you to walk around them in the hallway because this was "their space", but that doesn't give you a right to react with hate. Instead, by reacting with love, you will break down their walls and barriers and start making a journey to a more diverse world for all of us, where hatred on any side is unacceptable.
  4. Start the Journey towards friendship. New friends aren't easy to come by. However, the first step is to talk to someone. Most of us, especially those of us who are white, have very few friends of another color. Now, we can make excuses all we want, but that doesn't actually excuse us from reaching out. So what's the first step? Find someone already in your circle as an acquaintance, co-work, or friend of a friend, and find out more about them. Do you have similar interests? Invite them to join you. Are your kids about the same age as theirs? See if they want to join you at a park or playground. Do they have questions about a topic you understand well? Answer their questions. Do they have knowledge you could use in your field? Ask them to teach you. For instance, I've met two friends of another color at the library, one I am no longer involved with very much, because she lives in North Raleigh, the other is a newer friend, and I haven't seen her lately at the story time we typically go to. So, that means I'm done, right? Because I've tried a couple times and it hasn't worked out? Not at all, people are people no matter the color, so the next time I spot someone to talk to, I will talk to them. Not because of the color of their skin, but because they are people. This is not a 1-and-done, but rather a journey towards diversifying our communities one person at a time.
  5. Keep racism out of the next generation. If you are in an area where you are involved with kids, whether it's soccer practice, baseball team, school or an after-school program, you have a huge influence on the next generation. Don't treat behavior or "good" or "bad" as an example of black and white (race related or otherwise). My oldest was asking how I knew one of the characters in a TV show he was watching was going to be bad, and I told him it was the black outfit. His response, "Why?" Of course, that's his response to everything, but I honestly told him I wasn't sure why. I hope that I'm keeping racism out of our family with my children, but it does get harder as they get older and start to understand more of the subtext of what other friends and family (and the media) may be saying. For now, I will continue being amused that he tells people of another color, "Did you know you have more melanin? I want to be like that one day." We should all be a little more child-like in our responses (without being flippant or rude).
  6.  Take a walk in their shoes. If you feel like you really can't stand the other race, because they are taking "jobs" away (I realize this primarily applies to racism against Hispanics, but thought it was applicable given the insanity of the political climate today) you ought to take one of their jobs from them. Give it a shot! If you can't find someone willing to hire a white person standing outside the Home Depot, then go volunteer. Here are some good volunteer opportunities I'm sure you can find - planting or harvesting in a community garden (please be sure you are working at least 8-10 hours to make it more realistic), home repairs (check with Habitat for Humanity and volunteer for digging holes or roofing), or take a bus ride across town to volunteer in a soup kitchen. A lot of racism is simply mistaken beliefs and ideas. I can guarantee that if you work alongside someone of another race, or experience what they experience on a daily basis, you would have a lot more sympathy for their anger at your "white privilege".
  7. Keep our schools diverse. Now, this is not an argument for or against neighborhood schools. This is a personal argument. We all feel that we want our kids education to be a primary concern, but let's be honest about how many of us click through the website to check demographics or go on a "school visit" just to ensure that our child is going to end up at a school where they "fit in". Rather than looking at private schools or magnet schools or (gasp) homeschooling, we need to look at what education is best for our child regardless of race. Yes, I am currently homeschooling my children (for various reasons, which I may re-post about later), but I also believe that a culturally diverse public school is better than an academically "better" private school. Primarily because the main reason the private school is academically "better" is by weeding out those of a lower class or lower income.
Well, if you think that's too much work for you, and you don't want to change your attitudes and beliefs, then you can't complain about the state our country is in right now. If you don't make an effort to reach out, rather than looking down, then you can't complain about the label of "white privilege" when it is applied to you. If you can't make an effort to understand the hatred, then you can't get angry at the peaceful protests taking place in your city. Voting someone into or out of office isn't going to fix the race problem in our country. It will take a sweeping movement of people who care. Millions of us, working together to create more racially, culturally, and economically diverse communities.
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