My friend Deidra began August with a series of questions posed to her white friends and readers. She asked for authentic comments and I wanted to respond immediately, so I sent her my thoughts through Voxer. I chose Voxer because it felt safe.
Deidra and I have been sharing parts of our stories on (in)Courage for six years. I trust that she knows enough of my heart for me to offer the type of raw, this-is-how-I-think-and-wrestle-with-hard-issues feedback that isn’t drenched in political correctness and served with a side of caution. I knew Deidra wouldn’t judge my motives nor would she stop liking me if I said something that didn’t align with her thoughts. But publicly positing my inner thoughts about whether or not I feel that there is such a thing as white privilege? That’s about 47 steps outside my comfort zone.
But today, three weeks later, is a different day. I’m not all that concerned with whether or not I will be perceived negatively in the eyes of others because I need to be a part of the conversation about race. There are topics we want to discuss because doing so feels natural and then there are topics that we have the responsibility to talk about as follower of Christ. Systemic racism falls into the second category for me. I’m often terrified that I’m going to say the wrong thing and accidentally hurt someone’s feelings, but here’s the thing: human beings can’t grow individually or collectively if we aren’t brave enough to face down exigent subject matters, dissect our relationship with those issues, and then discuss our findings with others. We need to voice our questions and opinions to others who can both challenge and encourage us with their own well-thought out discoveries.
I’ve arranged Deidra’s questions and my answers like a magazine spread would cover an interview. No additionally commentary. No attempt to take the discussion in a different direction. No wordsmithing to make myself seem deeper or smarter or more eloquent than I am … just straightforward, conversational answers to straightforward questions in the name of bringing further understanding to a complex matter.
*Deep Breath* Here we go …
D: Do you hear something off-putting in the tone of people who raise the topic of racism on social media? If so, what “turns you off” the most?
A: Sometimes. I bristle when people bring up the topic of racism in a dismissive manner. Comments such as “We already know the solution to racism is to love everyone equally, so can we stop complaining about it ?” or “People can be racist against white people too!” or “We live in a broken world and it will be broken until Jesus returns, so we cannot expect all people to change their hearts.” or “A flag did not kill those people in Charleston!” I cringe. Sure, there is a piece of truth behind each of those remarks, but they seem more like sound bites meant to make a difficult subject easier to manage or avoid. And I cannot shake the feeling that statements of that vein, even when meant with the purest intentions, widen the chasm between whites and people of color.
As a history lover, I also feel disheartened when I see social media posts touting that America would be better if today’s politicians would adapt the value system held by many of our Founding Fathers. Although I understand that people bringing up our early leaders aren’t doing so to discuss racism … systemic racism is innately part of the conversation. I love my country and I have deep respect for many of the sacrifices made by the forgers of our constitution, but I feel uneasy agreeing that a leader today should try to adhere to the moral compass of anyone other than Jesus, because all humans are flawed. Since many of our Founding Fathers owned slaves, we can’t put their values on a pedestal. I’m immensely grateful to George Washington for his role as Commander of the Continental Army and as the first president of our nation, but I won’t gloss over the fact that he owned people. So instead of wishing that a current leader would be more like Washington or Jefferson, we need to pray for our leaders to know and follow Jesus.
D: What are your thoughts about white privilege? Does that term make you feel defensive, inquisitive, or something different?
A: This one is painful to answer. I didn’t understand the concept of white privilege until recently and therefore didn’t believe such a thing really existed. One reason why it was difficult for me to understand is because my family struggled financially I while I was growing up. And, because of various factors, I was considered a social outcast during my school years and the majority of my classmates made fun of me. Academics never came naturally to me either. Every “A” I received was earned from hours of studying, and even intense preparation didn’t help me in geometry and chemistry.
When I left my hometown after graduating from college, I moved to Orlando with two suitcases, $500 and close to $40,000 owed in student loans. I slept on the floor of my first apartment for several weeks until I was able to purchase a twin bed. I compared myself to my black friends and it seemed like I had overcame more hardship than they had. All of that skewed my sense of white privilege. I believed racism existed and I hated it … but I felt that white privilege died in the 60s.
Today, however, I see the ignorance in my thought process. My heart wasn’t ugly or vicious concerning matters of race, it was just uninformed. Now I understand that privilege is not synonymous with luxury or even convenience. A privilege by definition is an advantage or benefit granted to someone. White privilege is essentially an edge or boost a person in America is bestowed if s/he is born with light skin.
For instance, I’ve been pulled over by a traffic cop on three occasions and never once did I have to wonder if it was because of my skin color. I can type “short hair styles” in my search engine without including any other information and find thousands of photos featuring hair color and texture similar to mine. I don’t know how it feels to walk into a store and be met with a wary stare because of the color of my skin.
It’s also important to understand that white privilege and racism are vastly different concepts. I used to believe that if someone told me I benefited from white privilege that they also thought I was a racist, but that’s simply not true. It does, however, mean that I have benefited from historical racism. I wish that weren’t the case, but it’s undeniable truth.
D: As a white person in America, do you believe you are afforded advantages not available to others in this country?
A: Sadly, yes. I listed some examples above, but I also want to share a personal experience from a few years ago when I commuted to work via subway and shuttle bus. Once I missed the designated shuttle bus that transported commuters from the metro station to our office complex. A nearby hotel also ran a shuttle service and since it was a blustery, below-zero day, I hopped on and hoped that I wouldn’t be questioned by the driver. I wasn’t and neither were two other white passengers on that bus, but a young black man was asked to prove that he was a guest at this particular hotel. The driver was relentless. A hotel room number wasn’t enough to convince him—he actually required the young man to show him a room card. After the man complied and the driver was appeased, I piped up.
“Sir,” I squeaked. “I’m not a guest at your hotel. I work in the adjacent office complex and missed my shuttle bus. It’s freezing and I’d really appreciate a ride. Can I stay on?” He quickly nodded his head and told me that of course I could stay because the hotel and my company had a business agreement. I knew in my bones that the black passenger would not have been afforded the same courtesy.
D: If you are a person who invokes the phrase, “All lives matter,” what do you mean by that?
A: While I unequivocally believe that every person on this planet (the born and the unborn … the upstanding citizen and the death row inmate) matters, I do not use the “All Lives Matter” hashtag. However, in the interest of growth and pure transparency, I will admit that when I first saw the phrase, I didn’t understand why it was hurtful. Like I just wrote, all lives do matter. But my wise friend Jennifer explained it in a succinct, eloquent manner in the comment section of Deidra’s blog post. She wrote: “When we say Black Lives Matter, we’re standing with our brothers and sisters of color, seeing the injustice and saying we won’t stand for it. We’re not saying ‘Black Lives Matter More Than White Lives.’ We’re not saying ‘Black Lives Matter More Than (fill in the blank).’ We’re saying Black Lives Matter. Period.” And that’s the reality of the “Blacks Lives Matter” movement. It’s not a “more-than or less-than” statement. It’s an initiative designed to bring attention to issues our culture has avoided confronting for far too long.
*Takes another deep breath*
Well, there you have it. I’m only one person with a tiny platform, but neither size nor position is a prerequisite to joining a movement. I hope that my words here today will spur other conversations. If you’d like to share your views, please know that my blog is a safe place to do so. Kind words and reflective hearts are always welcome here.