My heart is cracking, my blood is churning and my sense of outrage is in overdrive. Here is a request for my white friends and colleagues to stand up for our friends of colour.
We are in the mix and middle of a powerful time in history. Rage from historic racism and injustice has boiled over, and quite rightly.
We all have a part to play … in the problem and the solution.
As a white woman, as an educator, I owe you this post. I am directing some of my power and privilege in the hope it helps you to move forward with effecting social change and justice.
Here we go.
We all have varying degrees of power and privilege.
While we all have power and privilege though, it varies wildly from person to person. Some of my power and privilege have been hard won, as the first and only person in my family to gain a university education for example. And as a survivor of early childhood trauma that resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder for another.
But much of my privilege is unearned because of the color of my skin. Having white skin means I carry an invisible backpack of privilege that I did nothing, nada, niet to earn. Check out this post for more information on Peggy McIntosh’s classic backpack: What do you carry (11 cabbages & a grudge against your father for never coming back?)
Here are some of my examples, and perhaps yours too, of unearned privilege based solely on the color of my skin:
- So many things are mixed up, upside down and turned around it sometimes feels like gravity is going to stop working. BUT because of my unearned privilege, I can walk away from the chaos temporarily. I can take a break, I can step away from all that’s happening when it gets too much. I can choose not to deal with it because it doesn’t affect my safety. That’s an unearned privilege.
- I frequently see people that look like me in positions of power, for example, teachers, doctors, lawyers and politicians. Someone asked in a Facebook post recently when was the first time you had a black teacher? I really had to think. Which of course, is an unearned privilege at work.
- I have easier access to credit and housing because of the colour of my skin.
- When I see a police officer approaching me I don’t fear for my life.
- I’ve never had to have ‘the talk’ with my boys about what to do if they’re stopped by the police to avoid being killed or harmed.
- I’ve never had an employer make disparaging comments about the natural state of my hair.
- Growing up, the crayon called ‘skin colour’ looked more or less like my skin colour.
- I never worry about store security following me, assuming I’m going to steal something based on the colour of my skin.
This unearned privilege has been going on far too long. So what are we to do?
Let’s work to bend the universe toward justice.
I, Richard—like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—believe that “the arc of the universe bends toward justice,” but it depends upon our participation. What is your work to do today to bend the universe a little more towards justice?
Franciscan Richard Rohr founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Public Action and Contemplation, June 12, 2020
We white folks desperately need to do the following (all links to resources are at the bottom of the post):
- Acknowledge our unearned power and privilege. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have other issues of oppression and haven’t struggled in other ways, but power and privilege due to our skin color is not one of them.
- Realize that much of our unearned privilege stems from hidden biases. Take the implicit bias test to learn more.
- Recognize the signs of white power and privilege and actively work to change them.
- Educate ourselves and not rely on people of color to do that for us (unless we pay them). One of the best resources I’ve seen is this list of scaffolded resources. It expertly lays out resources depending on what stage of awareness a white person is in.
- Actively support black artists, business people, community activists, etc. Check out Morgan Harper Nichols’ incredible work. Her words hit you in the heart and send chills up your spine to educate your brain. Here’s an example called Empathy which you can download and (get this!) hear her recite it here.
- Know that every opportunity is a chance to unlearn, relearn, and educate others. See Abhi Ahluwalia’s excellent Unlearn site. That’s his t-shirt design above.
- Figure out your tolerance for ambiguity, especially now because when we’re faced with chronic uncertainty, we grow “pattern hungry” in search of confirmation. And that search for patterns or certainty can lead us down the wrong garden path, to opinions that are faulty and based on false assumptions.
- Take good care of yourself, especially now, when so much chaos is around us. Only then can you be of your best service to others.
I sought, above all, to be a member of a community in which my principal struggle was not fighting being othererd because of my race, religious beliefs, sexuality or political views. Lama Rod Owens, Radical Dharma; Talking Race, Love, and Liberation.
We can and will find our way through this. We must. It will take soul baring work and broken hearts, but together we will rise. Together.
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead.
- Educate yourself with these scaffolded anti-racist resources
- How to be okay when things are not okay
- Take the implicit bias test on racism
- Check out my other writings on racism
- We can only pay attention to so much. Lots of things fly under our radar like this hilarious dentistry ad. When it comes to anti-racism work we need to be deliberate and proactive.
- Share the resources above with a friend and/or colleague.
- Support Morgan Harper Nichols’ incredible work (that’s her prose above)
- And next time you hear a racist comment, stand up, take a stand, and take action.
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