Realizing White Privilege: Personal Thoughts and Reflections on White Fragility.
Monday, August 24, 2020
Posted by: Tracey Nobis, CLM
I can honestly say that I have never been a person to discriminate or hold prejudices against people who do not look like me. In fact, a recent implicit bias test unveiled the fact that I tend to hold biases against white women – folks who look exactly like me. There have been times when I have fought in my personal and work life, for those who are being discriminated against. For those of you who know me, it likely won’t surprise you that I will publicly shame and condemn another human for saying disgusting things or acting out toward a person because of their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. However I, like many others, have spent recent months self-educating about culture, socioeconomics and disparities facing non-white Americans. I, also like many others, have struggled with my own viewpoints and perceptions, and have consciously self-reflected on my place in this world and how I can possibly change anything. I will admit that I have taken breaks from white guilt-provoking media, social injustice and its mighty warriors, to bury myself in a book of make believe or, let’s be honest, pound away on Candy Crush for hours at a time as a way to escape. I have tried to discover my own feelings, emotions and stance without falling into the too easy politics of it all or drawing thick lines in the sand. I am reflective enough to admit that I have questions about many things and often do not fall in line with the current progressive rhetoric. I have often beat myself up about that or worry that I did not raise my children the “right” way. I grew up being taught not to see color, and now we are taught to talk about color and the differences between people of different colors (white/black/brown) and I often ask myself “why?” My journey continues.
Thanks to the ALAMN Chapter, I had yet another opportunity to learn from Ellie Krug in her recent presentation "Getting Past the Bumpiness: White Fragility and Skin Color”. While Ellie’s talks are always thought and emotion provoking, there were a few very important take-aways that I needed to jot down while listening that will perhaps help form my ever-growing perception: 1. The definition of White Privilege; 2. What systematic racism truly is; and 3. Why White America has to make the change this country needs. These were the most important pieces of the conversation to me because these are the concepts I struggle with most.
As admitted to Ellie via one of the interactive presentation polls, I am not nearly as “woke” as I should be or, rather, want to be. Because of this, I have had a very hard time admitting any sort of privilege. My childhood was not the greatest, my early years especially were spent in dangerous neighborhoods where I was a minority most of the time, even though I am white. I got bullied a little, they called me Casper, but I lived. I had a child one month after I turned 17. I finished high school while working full-time, graduated to working three jobs and barely being able to see my son let alone buy diapers or pay rent. I then put myself through college shortly after having another child (and I not yet 20). You know the rest. I make a good living, live in a good home in a town of my choosing, and half of my children are now well-adjusted, productive, adult members of society (jury is still out on the other two – they are not yet 18). It was hard. I wanted to give up, and almost did, on several occasions. So you’ll understand why I may balk when someone says I have “white privilege”.
Ellie put an end to that particular way of my thinking within 5 minutes of her presentation. She said something so profound to me that my A-HA moment quickly ended a huge struggle I’ve had with the message being delivered over the last few months. White privilege does not mean that I was somehow bestowed with “more” simply because my skin color is white. White privilege means that I have not received “less” because my skin color is white. Admitting that I have white privilege does not mean I have led a trouble-free life, but that my whiteness has not contributed to those troubles. And she’s right. I have never been looked at suspiciously when walking into a store, restaurant, or through a predominately white neighborhood. I have never not gotten a job or watched people approach me cautiously because of my skin color. Because a definition was explained to me in the simplest of terms, I can now get past that discomfort. I have never been so close-minded to think that I understand another person’s troubles due to their “other-ness”, nor have I felt that just because I am able to surmount my troubles, everyone else can. Yet deep down I know I’ve felt that way to some degree. Before today I would often cringe when the word “privilege” was mentioned and think it a preposterous concept. Now I can honestly admit that I do, indeed, have white privilege. I can also promise that I will work hard to pass along that definition every time the opportunity presents itself.
The second thing that I truly struggle with, is the idea of systemic racism. I’ve taken many sociology classes in my life and have had many conversations, and while I have often used the term “a person can’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps if they don’t have boots”, I didn’t really believe it. After all, I didn’t have boots. We had an African-American president in the White House for 8 years, which some may believe proves that systematic racism is something of the past. I then remind myself that 8 out of 231 years is not a great example against the idea of systematic racism. I know that the very first police force was put into place to apprehend run-away enslaved people, but I also went to cop school and know that is not what they are teaching officers today. I know that there is generational oppression and can cite examples of it all day long. But to admit that our entire system was designed and continues to thrive in a state of racism? No way, I don’t believe it. This, my friends, is where Ellie pointed me to an entirely new path in my journey.
She mentioned that when the Constitution was written, Black (enslaved) Americans only accounted for 3/5 of a person, so that our system of representation would be more balanced and not run by the southern states. She reminded me that enslaved people were an American import for 200 years before the internal sale of people continued for another 50 years. My mind then began adding up the math that it would take another 100 years for Black Americans to go to the same school as my ancestors. And then the fact that another 70 years later race continues to be an issue in our country. I won’t pretend to be completely enlightened about systematic racism, but I can at least move forward with the knowledge that it does exist.
The final thing that caused my ears to perk up was Ellie’s statement that White America has to make the changes as it relates to racism and discrimination. White Americans are the ones who created all of the broken pieces and set a chain of events in place to create chaos. I have admitted a lot of my short-comings here, so I won’t stop now. I have struggled with the credibility of some of the actions of a portion of White America these last few months. Not all of the time, but a lot of the time, I have discounted what some do and say and questioned their motives. Are they just jumping on a band wagon? Doing it for their Instagram followers or Facebook feed? However, when Ellie made that very simple statement, it clicked, and made a lot of sense. Black America has done all of the heavy lifting so far. People I have and continue to admire have done everything to push the needle for racial equality in our country. That can only get us so far. If we want real change White America can no longer sit passively by and is going to have to be an active participant in demanding change. Those of us who quietly watch, those of us who do not have bad intentions, who do not have a discriminatory bone in our bodies but choose to not act – we might be part of the problem.
We are all on our own journeys and, as Ellie mentioned, perhaps we will never get to a place of complete “woke-ness”, and that is okay. However, each of us need to strive to get to the place of acknowledging that complacency and inaction are no longer options.
I’ve already downloaded my next book, Broken Heart of America. For those of you who are interested in the history we may not have been taught – the history that somehow got lost among all of the larger stories, I recommend it.