We Have to Talk About White Privilege

If you have ever driven along an Interstate, searching for the hotel where you have reservations, seeing it seemingly VERY CLOSE but realizing you have to figure out how to get off the interstate, get onto a service road, and find the entrance to your hotel, you know that things are not at all as easy as they first appear. White privilege is like a service road.

I have been wanting to write about intersectionality (and, related, white privilege) ever since I heard the word (yes, it’s been less than a year), but I have hesitated for a variety of reasons. The first reasons that come to mind are:

  1. I don’t understand the topics well enough
  2. I am afraid I will lose friends
  3. I alone can change no minds
  4. I am, as all of us are, so imperfect in my attempts to live life fairly

But those barriers are just going to have to co-exist with my attempt to say my piece on this. In my own home, in conversations with my closest family members, in multiple other environments, it’s time to talk about white privilege even if the attempt is grossly imperfect, if relationships unravel, if no minds are changed.

Because, whether it is a problem for us personally or not, our inability or unwillingness to put our privilege in context and figure out how to be in community with all our fellow people hurts us all in the long run.

White Privilege

One Book That Changed My Understanding About White Privilege

I wrote earlier that it has been within the last twelve months that I have heard the term “intersectionality.” I heard it at the We Won’t Wait 2016 gathering, as presenters explained the inequities faced by women of color. When I got home, I told my husband, “I felt guilty about being white.”

Sitting around feeling guilty about something I clearly can’t change about myself is not exactly constructive, so I set about trying to figure out what those speakers meant and what I could do.

I participated in an online book club about the book Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. Although I never ended up being able to join the group via Facebook live, the experience got me to read the book, and the comments in the Facebook group itself enlightened me.

Here are a few takeaways:

  1. The distribution of VA benefits after World War II, for example, led to inequities for African American returning soldiers. Many African American soldiers did not get access to the same educational or housing benefits that white soldiers received. (More here and here.)
  2. “Hide and seek” has a different meaning for inner city black kids than suburban white kids. Okay, this one could be vulnerable to being a HUGE generalization. But I believe Debby Irving when she says that many black kids are taught not to play hide-and-go-seek because they don’t want to associate being hidden with “fun” — because of the ramifications down the road for their interactions with law enforcement officers.
  3. “Helping” …….. isn’t always. Debby Irving talks a lot about how we as middle- and upper-class white people are brought up to help, to be optimistic (believe me, since me alter ego is the Optimism Light this one got my full attention). I get the irony of the fact that I am raising the issue, lover of causes that I am. But I have to look at myself in the mirror and ask about the lens through which I see my helping choices. Am I being a “white savior” or a “fellow human sharing my resources”? Author Nate Regier, Ph.D., writes, “Non-consensual helping is a personal violation.” Hmmm.
  4. Taking kids out of their environments to expose them to culture doesn’t always have the downstream effects we imagine it will have. One of Debby Irving’s first jobs was being the coordinator for an arts program in Boston. The program would bus children in from disadvantaged areas of the city in order to help them “get culture.” Irving writes convincingly of why that plan did not have the effects organizers hoped — these children didn’t necessarily understand the environment — the imposing buildings, the etiquette expected of them as arts consumers, the very “foreign-ness” of it all.

As a White Person, I Take Ease of Access Totally For Granted

Typically, we would think of interstate highways as helpful to reaching our destination faster. Limited exits so that no one slows down, the ability to drive at relatively higher rates of speed, uniform signage and format. The problem is, if the gas, food, shelter or other services we need are off of a service road, we have to get off.

White privilege is akin to being on the service road, doing whatever we need to do, easily. For people who do not have white privilege, they are speeding along, on a road defined for them by someone who presumed what they wanted, with limited ability to get the basics and extras they need and want in order to live a life equitable to ours because someone blocked the exits.

Things I Still Haven’t Made Peace With

  1. Reparations. Slavery was wrong. What’s a stronger word for wrong? Let’s go with reprehensible. Slavery created the foundation of the inequities toward black people that still ripple through our society today, in ways big and small. My challenge with reparations is two-fold: I don’t understand how they would work and I am not sure what positive difference they would make. The United Nations thinks they are a good idea, though, so that carries some substantial weight with me. (More about the recommendation from the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent in this Washington Post article.)
  2. Decisions Like the One Bill Proctor Made. Bill Proctor is an African-American county commissioner here in Leon County. He boycotted a commission retreat last December because slaves had been used on the property in the 1800s. While I am sensitive to the issues slavery poses to him, I guess this is one of those things that, taken to an extreme, could mean none of us could meet (or live) anywhere. Taking the example further, I should surrender the deed to my house and the property I live on to the Native Americans. It never really was mine to begin with and it probably was not handed over by them willingly or without sacrifice on the part of an entire people.
  3. Statues/Historical Monuments. It is a good thing that we are all so much more sensitive to the impact of monuments glorifying people who perpetuated racism. I struggle with the fact that removing the tangible evidence that these people were once celebrated doesn’t remove the fact that these people were once celebrated or the lessons we should learn from that. One article with more on the topic here.
  4. Language Hypersensitivity. Have you looked at any house plans lately? Notice anything different? Some designers are re-naming the master bedroom the “owner’s suite” or “mastre bedroom,” believing the term “master bedroom” carries too many negative connotations from a historical and gender perspective. Words evolve. Did you know the word “bully” started out with a positive connotation, meaning “sweetheart”? The word “sarcasm” has as one of its root meanings “stripping off of flesh” (ouch …. sarcasm can feel that way sometimes). Language hypersensitivity could render us all mute.

What Can One Person Do?

I ask that question multiple times every day. I think Farther Tim Holeda’s Awareness-Understanding-Action model may be a good guide.

To increase your awareness, start with an open mind then read things and talk to people who will help you expand your perspective. Here are some recommendations.

Book: Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

Site: Being Black at School (personal note: this site and its mission are the brainchild of my friend Kelly. Feel free to fast forward past the other 1700 words in this post and donate to BBAS. It’s that relevant and necessary.)

Site: I’m Not the Nanny (especially the Multicultural Resources page)

Site: Black Girl in Maine and Blog Post: ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ IS MORE THAN A MERE SLOGAN

Article: Black Americans are Killed at 12 Times the Rate of People in Other Developed Countries

Article: What White Children Need to Know About Race

Article: White kids are bullying minority students using Trump’s words

Article: Why “All Lives Matter” is Such a Perilous Phrase

Blog Post: 5 Truths About White Privilege for White People

Blog Post: 10 Ways to Practice Institutional Racism at Your Non-Profit Organization

Blog Post: All right, “color-blind” colleagues, we need to have a talk

Blog Post: Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The Tale of A Progressive Professor Who Forgot To Hide Her Racism And Got Her Ass Fired

Blog Post: I Don’t Discuss Racism With White People

Blog Post: Nebraska high school A.D. writes column about the racism his students face

Blog Post: Please stop requiring anti-racism and diversity trainings for POC in the workplace

Blog Post: Police officer’s daughter asked to remove ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag

Blog Post: Taboo Sex, Racism, and Gay Men: A Chat in Black and White

Blog Post: This is What White People Can Do to Support #BlackLivesMatter

Blog Post: Welcome to the Anti-Racism Movement — Here’s What You’ve Missed

Blog Post: Why I’m Absolutely an Angry Black Woman

Book Review: A Powerful, Disturbing History of Residential Segregation in America

Reality: Really watch what is going on in your family, your office, your community, our nation. Sometime there is book, blog post, or article more informative than real life

To increase your understanding, all I can say is that understanding often follows from awareness. Try step one, and I’m pretty sure you’ll make progress.

Regarding action, most of the links under “awareness” also have suggested actions. For me, much of the past year has been about opening my mouth when it would be easier to be silent. I was being shuttled from home to Enterprise Rental Car a few months ago by a driver who decided to pontificate on “Muslims lying in roads” and why white people will never get along with “them” (black people). I think his words to me, I suppose born out of the fact that I was younger than him, were “just wait and see.” UMMMMM. Short of jumping out of the moving car, I wasn’t sure what to say to indicate that absolutely nothing he was saying was appropriate, EVER. I managed something like “everyone has the right to express their opinion” (about the Muslims) and “that hasn’t been my experience” (about black/white relations). I am sure I didn’t change his mind, but I had to speak up.(I also shared the conversation’s content in my feedback email to Enterprise. I never received a response.)

I love a line in Korbett Mosesly’s piece (linked to above).

I realize that institutional racism may not be your goal or intention. You may not even be aware of the complexities of racism at your organization. I hope this post moves you from unintentional racism to intentional allyship.

 

I, for one, intend not to intentionally block any more of the “interstate exits” and do my part to help everyone have access to the things they need, especially, and the things they want, as an intentional ally.

White Privilege

(This post is a response to two Mama’s Losin It Prompts: “book review” and “share a quote you love.”)

Inauguration Day and Beyond: #One20

It’s no secret at all that my candidate did not win the US Presidency. The election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency makes me sad, angry, and terrified for the impact his policy choices will have on my fellow Americans, on me, and on the world at large.

But he did win, he is being inaugurated on January 20, and I have a choice to make regarding how I respond.

I am inspired by One20: A Day for Doing Good, a call to do good in our communities on January 20, 2017 (Inauguration Day).

Although One20 is focusing on January 20 to begin with, I anticipate that start will create ripple effects long into the future. One20 has inspired the structure of this post: 20 things I, as ONE single person, can do and say in response to the establishment of the Trump Administration.

1. I am not using the #NotMyPresident hashtag.

The day after the election, my daughter and I were discussing the election’s outcome and the reactions of people around us. “Is it that bad?” was her question. While I do believe it is, indeed, that bad, I am choosing not to use the #NotMyPresident hashtag.

I am choosing not to use the #NotMyPresident hashtag because, like it or not, he is what I am getting. However, in the same way that I went to the Grads Made Good breakfast at Florida State year after year and refused to clap for Dr. Stephen Winters (RIP) who groped me in Dodd Hall when I was a freshman, the professor a higher-up administrator basically looked the other way about when I shared the information, I will not be applauding our new President.

2. An Addition to My White House Selfies

Every time I go to DC, I take the obligatory “here I am in front of the White House picture,” like this one from last September.

Political Activism

When I go to the Shot at Life Champions Summit next month, though, the picture may still have a green pen in it (I mean, that’s the norm now, right?) BUT I will also feature a safety pin prominently in the picture. I have seen so many individuals and groups deeply hurt by the reinvigorated spirit of hatred and divisiveness in our country, it is imperative to me that people know I, like @IBexWeBex, am a safe place.

3. I will participate in the Tallahassee Women’s March on January 21.

Organized by the Florida Planned Parenthood Alliance, the event is “a 100% inclusive event and all genders, races, ages, religions, sexual orientations – everyone! – is invited to participate.”

4. Involvement in local, state, and federal politics.

I will redouble my efforts to be personally familiar with the choices my local, state, and federal leaders are making, and to make my positions clear with them.

5. My Profile Picture on January 20

I am not changing my profile picture to one of President Obama on January 20, as many people I know are planning. This relates to the fact that I am not using the #notmypresident hashtag. I am beyond grateful to President Obama and his family. He has been a singularly outstanding President, and I am so excited about how he can apply his intellect and passions once he no longer has the constraints of the Presidency.

I really can’t explain why this choice doesn’t sit right for me. When Beyonce did an impromptu (and very well performed) rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to prove that she could, indeed, sing the song without a lip syncing, I hated the song being used as some sort of “revenge” song. Somehow using President Obama’s image feels the same way to me. (But I support everyone making that choice.)

6. Helping Homeless Women With Personal Hygiene Needs

In keeping with the idea that we can collectively make big impacts when many people do small things, I am adding feminine products to the non perishables I purchase for local food drives. For more on this topic, visit Bustle.

7. Making an Impact in Person, not just Online

I read a great post on Facebook about how we should attend to seeing how we can positively impact the people within five feet of us. I can’t find the initial post, but the concept is true. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our virtual communities that we forget what we can do for the people right next to us. Let’s do it.

8. Read, Dialogue, Read and Dialogue Some More

I am continuing to read books like Debby Irvings’s Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race and Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out in order to be better informed then finding a way to act on what I’ve learned and be a part of respectful dialogue in order to bring people closer to one another.

9. I am refusing to stay silent in the face of racist, anti-semitic, or other hate jokes.

When a national rental car company picked me up to take me to pick up a car right after the election, the driver, commenting on how safe my neighborhood appeared, went on to remark, “be glad you’re not in California where those Muslims are lying down in the streets.” When I responded that they had something to say, he went on to explain how we can never get along with “them,” and  how I would “figure that out someday.”

I doubt my attempt to defend Muslims registered with him AT ALL, but maybe, just maybe, he will think in the future before spouting his hatred. It mattered to try.

10. I am not moving to Costa Rica, Canada, or anywhere off of US soil.*

I am not going to let this President and his administration run me off. I love my country, think it is great already, and plan to stay put.

11. Voting Matters Now More Than Ever*

I will support efforts to get out the vote, to encourage people to register to vote, and to make it easy for my fellow citizens to vote.

12. Supporting Equity and Safety for Black Students

I am grateful to have met Kelly Wickham-Hurst, creator of Being Black at School. I have made a donation and will continue to support her work advocating for equity and safety for Black students.*

13. Kindness > Sarcasm

Inspired by Caitie Whelan’s Lightning Notes about The Kindness Impulse, I will strengthen my kindness impulse so it is stronger than my sarcasm impulse. For the record, it would probably be easier to move to Canada!

14. You’re Never Too Young to Learn to Make a Difference

I will believe in the capacity for our the youngest among us to embrace diversity, to make an impact, and to positively influence their peers. A great place to start is by sharing one of the books featured in this #MomsReading blog from Moms Rising.

15. None of Us Can Afford to Be Single Issue Voters

I will continue to educate myself about issues that affect my fellow women and Americans, even if they don’t directly affect me. It started with We Won’t Wait 2016 and will only grow in the face of closed-mindedness and hatred from our newly elected leaders.

16. I will support the LGBTQIA+ Community

I joined Equality Florida in order to stay informed about issues important to Florida’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community (as well as Floridians at large) including Discrimination, Adoption, Family Recognition, Safe and Healthy Schools, Hate Crimes, Voter Mobilization, Marriage, Transaction, and Gun Violence Prevention.

17. I Will Advocate Tirelessly for Banned Books

I will continue to advocate passionately against censorship and other types of limitations to the freedom to read. Learn more about Banned Books Week.

18. Climate Change Is Bigger To Me Now

Although it has not been one of my “top” issues, I will redouble my efforts to track climate change issues and make a personal impact (ten good ideas in this article).

19. The World Beyond Our National Borders Deserves My Support

I will continue to be involved in international issues and in the lives of individuals in other countries for whom my access to freedom, resources, and security can be a help, such as the three children we sponsor in Guatemala and El Salvador through Unbound.

20. I Will Respect The Lessons of History

At the wise recommendation of Steve Schale, I read Rep. John Lewis’s letter of forgiveness to Governor George Wallace today. In one passage, he said, “Much of the bloodshed in Alabama occurred on Governor Wallace’s watch. Although he never pulled a trigger or threw a bomb, he created the climate of fear and intimidation in which those acts were deemed acceptable.” In the letter, Rep. Lewis forgave Governor Wallace, who in his view “grew to see that we as human beings are joined by a common bond.”

President Elect Trump will probably never pull a trigger or throw a bomb himself, but until he is proven otherwise, I stand ready to be one of the many Americans doing my part to mitigate the climate of fear and intimidation I see infiltrating the 2017 version of America which should know so much better by now.

As my friend Mary Schaefer quoted in a recent blog post:

We tell people who we are with every breath we breathe. (Source Unknown)

Mary’s unknown source is so right.

I can’t change who is going to be sworn in on January 20, but I can be a part of keeping America great …. for all Americans … until I run out of breath.

*Items with asterisks were inspired by “my commitments to protecting our democracy,” a reflection on President Obama’s farewell address by Leah Jones. Thank you, Leah, for helping me fill out my list of 20 actions/observations in such a substantive way.

More Ideas For How To Continue Advocacy Beyond 1/20/17

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