I cannot imagine how frustrating it is for people of color to constantly observe the behaviors of, and hear so many things people who consider themselves White say that reveal their unexamined, but wrong ideas related to race and privilege. Privilege is a word that often triggers a visceral, negative response in White people, but accurately names the unequal hierarchy between White people and others in our society. People who consider themselves White often feel unfairly blamed when they hear the word, and mistakenly believe they are being held accountable for things done in the past. The articles referenced below are a gift, as the author expresses it, to us to help us begin to understand these things.
I am not by any means very knowledgeable about White privilege. The reason I try to express what I have learned is because I don’t believe we will ever make any real progress in race relations until people who consider themselves White force ourselves to become aware of our unintended biases and advantages in our society. I have been very fortunate to begin to learn about these things because of the time I spent in the Kheprw Institute (KI) community when I was in Indianapolis.
I think the key to this, which applies to any situation that is unfamiliar to any of us, is that we don’t know what it is that we don’t know. We begin to learn those things in one of two ways. Certain things can be taught in a classroom. We can learn science, or about grammar, etc, from a teacher or book. These things are based on facts and rules that aren’t open to interpretation.
Other things need to be learned by our personal experience in situations new to us. So many of the things I learned at KI were not from formal lessons, but instead hearing and observing what life is like for people of color.
How could I not be affected by seeing tears run down the face of a Black mother, barely able to speak, as she told of how terrified she is any time her child leaves the house? How could I not be delighted to share in the laughter of my new friends at KI?
How could I not feel honored by the prayers my friends at KI sent at the time of my father’s illness and death? I realized I was wearing my DIOP sweatshirt for the sense of comfort that gave me during this difficult time.
Should I Give Up on White People? by George Yancy, professor of philosophy at Emory University was published by the New York Times, April 16, 2018. He tries to teach us how to begin to learn about these things. He references an essay of his that was published in the New York Times on Christmas eve, 2015, titled Dear White America.
I think Quakers will especially appreciate the references to silence. From that article:
Dear White America,
I have a weighty request. As you read this letter, I want you to listen with love, a sort of love that demands that you look at parts of yourself that might cause pain and terror, as James Baldwin would say. Did you hear that? You may have missed it. I repeat: I want you to listen with love. Well, at least try.
This letter is a gift for you. Bear in mind, though, that some gifts can be heavy to bear. You don’t have to accept it; there is no obligation. I give it freely, believing that many of you will throw the gift back in my face, saying that I wrongly accuse you, that I am too sensitive, that I’m a race hustler, and that I blame white people (you) for everything.
In this letter, I ask you to look deep, to look into your souls with silence, to quiet that voice that will speak to you of your white “innocence.” So, as you read this letter, take a deep breath. Make a space for my voice in the deepest part of your psyche. Try to listen, to practice being silent. There are times when you must quiet your own voice to hear from or about those who suffer in ways that you do not.