Have you ever sat down to really examine your life and, after doing so, found a fault? Perhaps a little crinkle in your character or maybe a bad habit that was wreaking it’s own special havoc on your health or your happiness?
If you haven’t, imagine what you might find if you did take the time to purposefully search yourself…weighing out your actions, thoughts and beliefs measure by measure. If you did find a bad habit, a questionable set of motives or that one particular dubious dogma to which you had forgotten you had subscribed – what would you do?
Would you let it slide? Would you just say to yourself ‘it can stay there, it’s not that big of a deal’? Would you allow it to continue to have its place in your personality?
Before I get to the point – let me drag this idea out of the abstract and into the physical world.
Let’s say you are getting dressed one day, but find you can’t button your favorite jeans. You pull on your favorite sweater; it too is tight in the shoulders and tummy. You try to remember the last time you went to the gym, but all you can recall is telling yourself ‘tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow…’ and the gluttonous moments of ‘sure, why not?’ come flying back to you. Ugh, right?
As you struggle out of these clothes that don’t fit, your brain begins to process the necessary actions – UNCOMFORTABLE AS THEY MAY BE – to help you drag yourself out of the natural state of sloppy, lazy, selfish behavior to better your body and your life. “Eat better. Go to the gym. Get more rest. Drink water. This will result in a happier, more peaceful life.” Your brain is so smart.
Now, let’s take this idea that your brain has – to drag yourself out of sloppy, lazy, selfish behavior and apply it to the idea of white privilege and racism. YES MA’AM. The RCL just went there.
When I first heard the term ‘white privilege’ I felt defensive, angry, pigeonholed, offended, aggravated, confused and deeply, deeply curious. I decided to run after the curiosity and tell all those other emotions to take a break from their usual leading role.
I surely knew I was no racist. I believed that all people deserved freedom, the privilege of choice in life and an opportunity to find happiness – regardless of the color of their skin. I also wholeheartedly believed that these opportunities were available to all people as long as you worked really hard and stayed out of trouble. Also, thanks to some patient friends, I learned a long while ago that I do see color and that claiming you didn’t was garbage. I could see that this friend’s skin is brown, that friend’s skin is black and that my skin is white, of course I could. Claiming otherwise really is ‘garbage’ (bulls*t).
I kept pushing myself; thinking and reading and talking to people and thinking some more. I wanted to know how I could be considered to be part of this white privilege problem? I wasn’t from a wealthy family. I didn’t perceive myself as your typical middle class white person. My life had come with a lot of strife and struggles – economic and otherwise. PRIVILEGE? REALLY? I had to remind anger and resentment that this was not their show and let my curiosity continue to navigate these choppy waters.
The thing is – I had a moment after all that talking and thinking and reading and pushing and more thinking. I realized what white privilege is to me, in my personal perception and in general as a white person. I sat down and examined myself, closely. I realized that I had some fault in this situation – in my own heart and my own life. I had to drag myself out of the natural state of sloppy, lazy, selfish way of thinking and decide to change my perception.
It was kind of like stepping out of the dark and into a better understanding…
My realizations are as follows:
- Racism is still very much a problem.
Although I may personally abhor racism and the idea of supremacy of any one race (or gender for that matter, but that’s a subject for another post) those ideas are alive and well.
- The essence of racism is built into the foundation of our nation.
This ugly truth may be the hardest to process for us modern day white folks. How are we to blame for the horrible, inhumane and ungodly actions of people we never knew or would claim as our blood? How can anyone say that I have benefited from the choices made by men and women when I never had a chance to stand against them? That question can immediately be turned around…how can anyone say that I haven’t benefited from those horrific actions? How can I not stand against the vestiges of those actions now?
If this doesn’t quite make sense at first, I understand – I had to think very hard and recall different scenarios that helped me comprehend it. A few examples, without details, that helped me to wrap my mind around this in my own personal experiences:
First, reading about The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement for the first time in sixth grade and how those ‘facts’ made me feel. Second, remembering my peers in elementary through high school and how it seemed we all started out at the same pace, but things changed for a lot of the kids of color. We were all bright, beautiful beings with amazing trajectories, but it seemed like somewhere there was a shift in things. Third, every time I have ever applied for a job and/or been to an interview. I never have had to worry that the person scanning my resume would cast it aside due to the cadence of my name or toss my application in the ‘pass’ pile just because I was white.
- The scales are NOT balanced.
There are people in positions and policies in place that deter people of color from succeeding – whether intentional or not, this is REAL. Look around your office or your college for instance. Take something like Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action. I had a hard time understanding why it has to be in place.
I’ve felt conflicted about it – why did we still have this need? Shouldn’t people be considered for college admissions, jobs, promotions, etc. based on MERIT and HARD WORK alone? Yes, but because of systemic racism and prejudices we need Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity. Another realization I had during this time…the heartbreaking feeling someone must have when it is implied that their college admission, position at work, promotion or professional success was only because of those laws and statutes, not their merit or hard work AND because I’m white, I will never fully know what that is like.
- I have turned a blind eye and kept a closed mouth to racism.
I have laughed at the jokes and remained silent at the slurs. I have watched as people were followed around stores in suspicion. I have been a bystander to assumptions. I have been superior in my thoughts, but lethargic in my life. I have not put my haughty ideas where my mouth is anywhere near as often as I could have and that is not okay. I may not be wholly certain of what’s next in my course of action, but I know that apathy is no longer acceptable.
- I still have so far to go.
The worst thing I have seen of myself is the hardest point to admit. I feared writing this post and proclaiming my understanding. I feared it so much that my hands were sweaty as I typed. I feared how my white friends and my friends of color would perceive me. Would it be seen as pontificating or insincere? Would people think I was just jumping on a bandwagon?
I have decided that it doesn’t matter what people think of my opinion on this issue. My choice to change is important. My choice to publicly express my change is important, too. I am certain that the more people begin to discuss these ideas and recognize how they have such a foothold in our world that powerful, unimaginable, irrevocable change will occur – one person at a time.
To recap my earlier analogy…
“Let’s say you are getting dressed one day, but find you can’t button your favorite jeans. You pull on your favorite sweater; it too is tight in the shoulders and tummy. You try to remember the last time you went to the gym, but all you can recall is telling yourself ‘tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow…’ and the gluttonous moments of ‘sure, why not?’ come flying back to you. Ugh, right?….
“As you struggle out of these clothes that don’t fit, your brain begins to process the necessary actions – UNCOMFORTABLE AS THEY MAY BE – to help you drag yourself out of the natural state of sloppy, lazy, selfish behavior to better your body and your life. “Eat better. Go to the gym. Get more rest. Drink water. This will result in a happier, more peaceful life.” Your brain is so smart.
So today I’ve shrugged for the last time. My sloppy, lazy, selfish behavior is done. I may not know exactly what to do next or how to make a big difference in this issue, but here in my little sphere of influence I have spoken up and that’s a step.