A “friend” on Facebook yesterday posed a question about white privilege. While attempting to meditate this morning, I kept thinking of replies, which were way too long for Facebook, so here I am on my mostly-abandoned blog. My first awareness of my white privilege came in 2004 (at the age of 50!) after reading Peggy McIntosh’s article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” (quite easy to find online). I began to recognize how white faces are everywhere, that I am represented everywhere, and people of color are not: that I can drive my car without being pulled over and shot.
This past summer, when I was late for a picnic I was organizing for work, I stopped by Safeway to pick up a forgotten item. I ran into the store, and passed a young black teen. That’s when it hit me on a more visceral level: I can run into a store, run through the store, go to the checkout and then run out of the store without being stopped and searched. He could not. I can shop anywhere without being watched and harassed. Even before I had a name for white privilege, I have been aware for years that I am sometimes able to cajole a shop keeper to let me use their bathroom when it’s not open to the public, but others cannot.
Like many white people, I thought I was OK because I was not overtly racist – I recognize every human being is valuable and worthwhile. I’ve come to believe that ain’t enough in our racist society which was literally built on the backs of enslaved Black people. Just a few minutes ago I saw the trailer to a new movie “I Am Not Your Negro” written by James Baldin, and narrated by Samuel Jackson (due out Feb. 3rd). One thing I try to remember is that as a white person I can forget about race – it’s not in my face everyday like it is for people of color. Every day! So I’ve begun educating myself so I don’t forget. Here are 3 books I recommend:
“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D. She is a psychologist who explains how we create a racial identity. She states “…the role of the ally is not to help victims of racism, but to speak up against systems of oppression and to challenge other whites to do the same.”
I think “The New Jim Crow – Mass Incareration in the Age of Colorblindness” should be mandatory reading for every white person in America. Michelle Alexander is the writer. She places attention on the very real ways that our criminal “justice” system is seriously broken. There are more black men in prison today than were slaves before the Civil War! It’s a new kind of war, a new kind of slavery that I believe most white people are completely unaware of.
The latest book I found is Phoebe Robinson’s “You Can’t Touch My Hair – and other things I still have to explain.” (I learned about her when I finally read an issue of B*TCH magazine – awesome!) Phoebe is insightful AND hilarious. I don’t want to take myself too seriously – I realize I know only a little – and it’s fun to be able to laugh as I read her book.
When I wonder what can I do about racism, I take heart in what Beverly Daniel Tatum wrote: that my job is to speak up against systems of oppression, and to talk about white privilege. I have a lot to learn, and I hope others will share their insights with me as well.