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 effects 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 hereEditor’s note 8/22/17: This topic gained prominence recently, as the people around the nation reacted to the Charlottesville violence. I am coming to realize that the best route is (often) eliminating these statues. I still feel the process must be done deliberately, with context. ~ pk
  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 Father 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: How Redlining’s Racist Effects Lasted for Decades

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

Article: Why Is It So Difficult for White People to Let Serena Williams Be Great?

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: Othering

Blog Post: One Life at a Time: A Different Angle on #BlackLivesMatter

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.”)

8 New Words In an Evolving Language

(This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive compensation.)

I love language. I can’t remember a time when I was not an avid reader, and I’ve always enjoyed wordplay.

I can be a stickler about many things English-language related (hello, beloved Oxford comma), but I recognize that the English language is a living, breathing entity, not a static one. Social media has, to me, put the evolution of English on hyperdrive.

I think of all of the words consigned to word graveyard because a hashtag takes their place. For example, in this tweet…

…an “I” and an “am” and a “so” all remained home in the word farm stable, unused, because a hashtag did all the heavy lifting for a passage which would have otherwise read “After an intense homework session, finally going to bed. I am so tired.” (I do this frequently too, I just couldn’t find an example when writing this post, so thanks @stinger444 for the perfect example.)

New Words in an Evolving Language

The way our language usage has changed due to Twitter and other forms of social media is a topic for a whole post of its own. What I want to talk about today is new words which I have come across in the last year that made me go, “HUH….”

In some cases, they are words that are a bit ingenious in representing a particular concept. In others, they (to me) signal either a new humanitarian sensitivity or, in some cases, a walking on eggshells nod to political correctness.

Prior to writing this post, I looked up “how a word gets into the dictionary” which has a great infographic detailing the routes words take to being “official.” For each word, I’ll let you know if it’s in the dictionary yet and I’ll share a few thoughts on the word. They’re not presented in any particular order. I just added them to a draft post as I ran across them.

Previvor

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I don’t recall where I first read this word, but I think it may have been in reference to Angelina Jolie in an article like this one from the Washington Post.

previvor is the survivor of a predisposition to cancer who has not had the disease, such as a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation or other genes related to Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC).

This is one of those words I want to be aware of. If someone uses it in a face-to-face conversation, I will be more prepared to understand the fears/emotions/challenges inherent in the fact that they are a previvor. Likewise, if someone uses it on social media, I won’t have to ask “what’s that?” and can respond in an informed and empathetic way.

If you are a previvor, this site, FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered), may be of support.

Latinx

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I don’t recall where I first read this word either, but for quite some time I thought it was an unusual typo and I could NOT figure out how to pronounce it. It’s not a typo. (Thanks, Complex, for cluing me in.)

According to Complex (linked above), Latinx is pronounced “La-TEEN-ex” and is a “gender-inclusive way of referring to people of Latin American descent.” In addition, “used by activists and some academics, the term is gaining traction among the general public, after having been featured in publications such as NPR to Latina.”

(By the way, the author of the Complex piece on Latinx, @yesipadilla, refers to herself as “Xicanx” so I think I see a trend!).

I’m glad I now know that Latinx is not a typo. I know that if someone uses it, they are explaining something important to them about their identity and how they want to be seen in the world. It’s one of those words that reminds us not to make assumptions.

It’s not like I have any authority to recommend a great site for the Latinx community, but since my work related to the CDC’s efforts around HIV Awareness is so important to me, I’ll highlight one of the first places I heard about the term Latinx: National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day (October 15). If you can recommend a general resource for those who identify as Latinx, I’d love to know about it.

Cisgender

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? YES

The first place I really recall hearing this word frequently was at the We Won’t Wait 2016 conference in September, which had several sessions related to issues facing the transgender and LGBTQIA+ communities. Then I read Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, a book which used this term, and decided I really needed to figure out what the reference meant.

According to Merriam-Webster, cisgender means of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth. For examples of how it is used, read the full definition here.

I have to be honest. The word “cisgender” sits funny on my ears. BUT I can see why it is useful, as part of the current dialogue about gender identity. There was a teen highlighted in Beyond Magenta who was a boy transitioning to a girl who went to an all-boys school. It sort of made me wonder about the world I’ve always known, which so tidily segregated boys from girls. Boys’ schools, girls’ schools, boys’ teams, girls’ teams. Things are changing. People who find themselves somewhere in the middle ground between “I 100% identify as male” and “I 100% identify as female” have a language to more accurately reflect the fact that they are on a journey whose terminology does not provide definition at times. Another area where I can converse in a more informed way now that I know.

To learn more about how to have a dialogue about gender identity, this is a helpful resource. It’s directed at teens but if you’re like me, your knowledge about gender issues may NOT correlate with your chronological age. We all need to start somewhere.

Cultural Appropriation

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

The first place I recall hearing this phrase was in a post about a Disney-themed costume. I believe it was an article like this one about a Moana costume. The term “cultural appropriation” has continued to assert itself in the content I read. I don’t recall if the exact term was used, but if not the concept itself was covered in Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.

In About News, Susan Scafidi defines Cultural Appropriation as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

I struggle with this one (but I do, for starters, understand it and believe awareness is key). If you know me at all, you know I am a proud double alum of Florida State University. Since I became a freshman in 1982 through now, I have seen changes: Lady Scalphunters are now Lady Spirithunters, for example. I realize it was disingenuous to parrot back what I was always told: “well the Seminole nation is okay with it.” But rightly or wrongly I still embrace Seminole fan paraphernalia and …… well, it’s a work in progress.

This resource I found about cultural appropriation was the best kind of resource: it involves your mind while engaging you in an activity beyond reading. I present: Cultural Appropriation Bingo from Dr. Sheila Addison.

Phygital

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I learned the term Phygital from a Spin Sucks blog post, Four Phygital Marketing Ideas to Grow Your Business, by @openagentoz.

Phygital customer expects a brand to combine the physical and the digital for a best-of-both-worlds experience

Honestly, after Cultural Appropriation, I’m just happy to have a word that isn’t laden with challenge to discuss (but hold on to your physical hats and enjoy this section because Othering is coming up next).

Knowing the word Phygital makes me feel up to date on marketing trends. I personally *love* being a consumer contributor of Social Snaps, such as this Fitbit/Giant Microbes/Shot at Life Instagram post.

Evolving Language

For more about all things “phygital,” transport yourself way back to 2012 and read this.

Othering

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

There are No Others defines Othering as “any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us.” Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it’s sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are.”

This is another term that is new to me. I think it was in Waking Up White (linked above), but I read the audio and can’t easily look it back up. Regardless, I’m hearing it often and my consciousness is raised. This is somewhat tied into the compulsion to “help” that I grew up with. I *think* my support of Unbound is sensitive to “othering” but how many times have I written about “those in poverty” and really done so in a way that respects each individual’s worth?

There are some good resources for learning about “othering” here.

Carefrontation

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I first heard this term used by Dan Negroni, author of Chasing Relevance. Although I can’t find that reference anymore (why on earth didn’t I  hang on to the link then?!, a twitter search turns up lots of instances).

As defined on Oprah.comCarefrontation is “putting our heads together to reach a common goal.” Read the complete post here.

I know I avoid confrontation, and by doing so lose out on opportunities to have peace of mind and to actually get things I want. Maybe there’s something to be said for, as the Oprah.com article recommends, implementing a three-point plan of preparing with care, offering an invitation to talk, and practicing no-blame talking and listening.

Where to find more about Carefrontations? I could link to this but then I would have to add “choice points” to my list and I feel like I’m at capacity right now. 😉 Here’s a post about it from Great Leadership that’s a good read.

Fungineering 

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I first heard this term used in this New York Times book review of Why Are Americans So Anxious? related to Zappo’s.

Fungineering at Zappo’s is defined in this article as “a kind of events-planning pep squad.”

I just like “fungineering” because it’s a neat word mashup and portrays some of the out-of-the-box ways organizations can bring humor and joy to the workplace. However, I was alarmed at the reference in the book review to how the author seeks input from Zappo’s happiness evangelist Tony Hsieh: “Whippman has a weird email exchange with Hsieh in which he uses lots of exclamation points and refers to the ‘holacracy’ and ‘brand aura’ (she doesn’t know and neither do I). But he declines to meet with her because he doesn’t prioritize people he feels ‘drained by after I interact with them,’ he writes.”

Where to find more about fungineering? I’m guessing you might not want to contact Tony Hsieh directly but if you’re in College Station, TX, this may be an option to explore.

WHAT NEW WORD WOULD YOU ADD TO THIS LIST? 

Evolving Language