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: 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.”)

Talking About Children on Social Media

Sometimes, I find it impossible to make my point in a succession of 140-character tweets. This recent tweet about an article titled Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children

…led to an exchange that got me thinking and also resulted in me feeling like I hadn’t really articulated my thoughts on the subject thoroughly.

Social Media Choices

The exchange led to two thoughts:

  1. Honestly, my first impulse was a knee-jerk reaction to the term “mommy blogger” rather than an urge to delve into the article the tweet linked to. I don’t love the term. Or, to be specific I don’t love the term as it applies to me. I’ve always incorporated MANY topics into my blog in addition to the fact that I’m a parent. I enjoy blogging in leadership and public relations circles, and I recoiled the first time a “leadership blogger” acquaintance referred to me as a “mommy blogger.” Had he NOT READ my blogs about customer service, supervision, and corporate culture?
  2. A desire to dig a bit deeper into the topics the article addressed.

NOTE: Christine wrote a post related to this topic on August 15. Click here to read it.

Blogging About Our Children

I am glad I didn’t start blogging when my kids were little. 

I published my first-ever blog post on May 17, 2008. It was a whopping four sentences long and did not contain any images but it did contain a reference to my son, who was 8 at the time. On June 28, 2009, I declared my intention to blog weekly (and I have, missing maybe five weeks in the seven years between now and then). At first, I intended for every blog to be about running (although the blog declaring my intention to post weekly contained a picture of my son too!).

As time progressed, I branched out from running. In the 700+ posts I’ve published since then, I’ve discussed my sock drawer, people and companies that provide incredible customer service, running (in prison and elsewhere), a convenience store bathroom, causes I love such as Shot at Life, and many other topics.

am glad I didn’t start blogging until my kids were 7 and 10. I am pretty sure I would have been an oversharer if I had been blogging through my pregnancies and childbirth, as well as my children’s early years. I have read quite a few blogs where I thought “holy crap this blogger is sharing a LOT of personal info” and “I’m not sure that kid is going to be glad his mom shared that picture of him at eighteen months wearing his sister’s tutu on his head and his superhero underoos on his butt when he is 18 years old.” But that’s up to that blogger, and I can always move on and read something else.

Does an alias name protect a blogger’s children?

Some bloggers use aliases to protect their children’s identities. They may call “Susan” a name like “Ann” or they may call “Susan” an amusing moniker like “Doodlebug.” Frankly, one of the reasons I don’t do that is I could not pull it off consistently. It’s a lot of work to a) remember and b) implement.

My incredible friend Jess (Diary of a Mom) explained her rationale for using alternate names here, to give you one parent’s thoughts.

One of my earliest lessons.

Back in 2009, I thought it was HILARIOUS when I tagged my son’s stuffed animal in a picture. I just happened to show him, and he (at 10 years old) didn’t laugh – he immediately burst into tears. This incident was one of my first lessons in “what you find hilarious as a blogger, something you think your readers/Facebook friends will laugh at, will embarrass your child.” Hmmm.

Here’s what I wrote after that incident:

If I had not offhandedly mentioned to Wayne the “tagging,” he never would have known. However, it was something I did for me and not at all for him. I learned a lesson that a certain set of parents of 8 children [I was referring to Jon & Kate + 8] is completely missing right now (in my opinion): our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts. I may have 572 friends on Facebook who would get a chuckle out of something like this, but I only have two children counting on me to give them an emotional safe haven.

Nothing is Temporary on the Internet

I mean, nothing is temporary on the internet (even Snapchat). On the one hand, my blogs create a better “virtual baby book” than the paper baby books I’ve managed cobble together for my two children. On the other hand, what on earth is going to pop up 20/30/40 years from now when they google themselves?

So many opinions

I asked the smartest, savviest people I know (my friends!) their thoughts on the NYT article. Here are a few:

I wonder what it will be like for her [referring to her daughter] to read something at 10, 11, 12, 13. She’s very sensitive so I try to be mindful. But I think it’s a matter of personal choice and temperament. – Sili of @mymamihood

I think that we have a tendency to overshare on social media. When it comes to your own life, that’s up to you as an adult to decide if your trials, tribulations, joys and secrets should be shared with the world. Writing about your children – especially about topics they might find embarrassing – should be tread on lightly. – Kim F.

This really speaks to me. I had a blog a few years ago about parenting my son with autism. I stopped writing that particular blog for the same reason this writer discusses: He is a person and deserves his privacy. Both my kids still find their way into my work, but now they are carefully disguised as some kind of talking animal in a children’s play or the lyrics to a song. – Amanda B. of Making Light Productions

I share my failures in mothering because blogging is a virtual water-cooler of sorts.  I reveal *my downfalls* not her shortcomings. – Carla Birnberg of Unapologetically Myself (read her full post on the topic here)

I am very careful to not over share on social media. I feel strongly that it is their story to tell. – LeeAnn K.

I have been burned by over sharing in real life and online. I say things that are not ugly but brutally honest. That’s the way I was raised, but I always thought it was a southern bell thing. At some point I realized that it’s not the way my kids developed. They are quite opposite from me. – Kathy D.

There is a balance that is needed and each writer has to find it. – Velva K. of Tomatoes on the Vine.

My kids are old enough now that they actually ask me not to post certain things, not to take pictures of them, not to share stuff. It has become an issue of trust, and I pray I never violate theirs. – Rebecca B.

With all the problems we have in this world, we focus on things that are byproducts of overthinking. – Will L.

I stopped posting pics of my children online and talking about them is limited – when I was working on research project and learned how often pics of children are stolen and used on child porn sites. They take what would be innocent pics and pervert them. – Kora R.

For Me, It Boils Down to This

If I were to scrub references to my children, my parenting, and my family life from my blog and social media presence, that would be as much a misrepresentation of who I really am than it would be to share every moment, even those with the potential to embarrass or humiliate my children either now or decades down the road.

When I began blogging, it was “to exercise my writing muscle,” but it has become much more. It is part diary, large part therapy, part family documentation … it is many things which bring me joy and hopefully educate/inspire others along the way.

What I don’t want it to be is an ill-considered instrument of destruction. To repeat what I said back in 2009: “our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.”

I suppose with seven years of blogging experience behind me, from the perspective of a parent of a 17-year old and a 20-year old, I would change the “think before taking liberties” phrase to something different:

Our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking not knowingly take liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.

What are your thoughts on parents who blog about their children?

Social Media Choices

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