The Privilege to Ignore

I am a white, middle-class American woman, born into privilege. I am the daughter of a business owner father and upper class socialite mother (both deceased now).

I grew up in a small town in northern Michigan. There were no people of color in my town when I was growing up. None.

By all outward appearances, we had it all. Big house. Fancy cars. Family vacations to exotic places. Private planes. Helicoptors. Country Club membership. Access to the best colleges and Universities. These were just some of the advantages I had as a white girl in America, and specifically, as an upper middle class family in a small town. There was no internet or instant global access to news and information. Things are different today.

When I was growing up, I had no idea what racism was. I wasn’t exposed to it. I was surrounded by other people who looked like me. Racism wasn’t shown on the nightly news other than to mention violence. It wasn’t talked about in our provincial little town, or in any way part of our collective experience. Or perhaps I remember it that way, as viewed through my lens of priviledge. There was prejudice, though. I witnessed socio-economic prejudice. If anyone asked me back then what’s the difference between prejudice and racism, I probably would have said they’re the same, but maybe racism is stronger prejudice.

The prejudice I experienced came primarily in the form of my parents telling me there were certain people/families I shouldn’t associate with (presumably because they would bring me down to their level or prevent me from reaching my potential). But it always had to do with their social standing.

The mentions of racism on the National News or in weekly News magazines seemed terrible, but also very remote and distant to me. It wasn’t something I encountered in my young life. So when I left home at the age of 18, I still had no real concept of racism.

I attended a predominantly white, Christian Conservative college, and anything I learned about racism there was from history lessons. I never had a single conversation about it. I never had the opportunity to discuss it with anyone who lived it.

I’m a very curious person by nature. I’m curious about everything. Some things make me uncomfortable, but that usually goes away once I learn more about the topic. I do not like conflict in any way. Conflict makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and agitated. However, perhaps due to my inately curious nature, I do have a very high need for resolution. A high need for understanding.

This need is what compels me to enter into and move through conflict and uncomfortable conversations. I will never enter into conflict for the sake of conflict. However, I will push myself out of my comfort zone in order to reach resolution when there is conflict. I’m not talking about two people with differences of opinion making compromises to make the other person feel heard, accepted or comfortable. I’m talking about facing the person I am in conflict with and honoring the truth of their views, opinions, beliefs and perceptions, just as vehemently as I hope they will do the same with me.

It’s not about right, wrong, good or bad. It’s about reaching a place of understanding and acceptance, from a place of compassion and love. It’s the modern Hindu meaning of Namaste…

“I bow to the Divine in you.”

~ Hindu Namaste

I’m an energy person. I’m an Empath, and I operate my life largely from a place of feeling. When I meet someone new, I immediately get a feeling about the person. I rely on those feelings to direct me toward people I vibe with. Sometimes I am instantly and strongly attracted to and feel connected to someone the moment I meet them. These feelings have nothing to do with race. For me it’s more of a soul connection. The light in me sees and is drawn to the light in you sort of thing.

I’m glad to have this trait. But I have learned so much just in recent days about how much I have not understood. I have friends from all races (not patting myself on the back here, just stating a fact). I am very open and accepting. I love unconditionally and I love easily. And yet, as I measure the depth of my friendships with Black people, I have to admit, I’ve been careful.

I have been careful in order to make them feel comfortable, accepted, seen and heard. But I’ve never been courageous enough to talk about what makes them uncomfortable. What keeps them up at night. What they worry most about. I was careful because I didn’t want to upset them. I wanted them to see me as an ally as well as a friend. I thought I was being polite by not bringing up anything that might make them feel uncomfortable. I wanted the to be comfortable with me.

As I examine this now, I believe I acted this way to make myself open, honest and approachable to them. I meant no disrespect. My intentions were good. However, as I look back on my behavior, my reactions, my choice of words over the years, I can see and feel the micro-aggressions hidden in them. I am only able to see this now thanks to the current outpouring of videos and posts by people of color.

A few years ago, my dear friend Lisa, a beautiful Black woman who is like a sister to me, was visiting me. I remember we were driving in the car, talking about race (a little bit), and I wanted her to know that I loved her exactly for who she is. I wanted her to know I saw her as an equal, as an empowered woman. So I said to her, “I don’t see color. I see people.” (Even as I read that now, it makes me cringe at the obtuseness of it.) I meant it with the deepest respect. My intentions were golden, I promise you. When I said these words to her, she got a funny look on her face. I didn’t understand it at the time. I thought maybe she didn’t believe me (and all of my good intentions), or we had reached the level of comfort we were willing to venture into around the subject of race.

What I didn’t realize then, and have only recently learned, is that my words negated the most beautiful part of her. What I said was completely disempowering to her. I stripped away all of what is unique about her, to make her more like me (what I intended to be Woman to Woman). Lisa, I appologize for saying those words. What I know now and would like to say instead, is: I see your color and I honor it. I honor you. I love you. I see you, you beautiful Black woman! You single mom raising amazing sons. I’m sorry for my limited understanding back then.

The term white privilege has been popping up more frequently in the last few years. I don’t know who finally made it mainstream, but I’m grateful it was brought to light. I’ve spent a lot of time noticing my privilege over the past few years. I actually thought I had a pretty good understanding of it, until Saturday, May 30, 2020.

That’s the day I watched a life-changing video post on facebook where a Black woman was sharing her heart. She was sharing her fears. She was revealing what real life is like as a person of color in the United States. She was pleading with white people to finally stop using our priviledge to oppress Black people. She said she was afraid everytime her husband left the house. She was afraid he would be killed for being Black in the wrong place at the wrong time. She said when they go to the grocery store and he wanders off to a different aisle, she feels fear that he will be killed for being a Black man alone in a grocery store aisle. She implored us (white people) to listen, to understand and to stop using our privilege to ignore.

To all of my white friends reading this, thinking she is over-reacting, please consider this. These are her very real feelings, and they are valid. They are based on a lifetime of lived experience… not that her husband does get killed when he leaves the house or walks down an aisle without her… but that he very likely could, for being Black in public. I can tell you the number of times I have felt anything like this in my life.

Exactly ZERO times.

When I was raising my son, I had what I consider “normal mom worries.” I worred that he might get in an accident. I worried that he might make a bad decision and have to suffer consequences. I worried that he might drink, do drugs, or get in with the wrong crowd and derail his dreams. I never once worried that he might not make it home because of the color of his skin. That thought never occurred to me. I, ignorantly, didn’t know that was a thing. Just like I had no idea that all Black parents have “the talk” with their innocent young children about how to look and act every time they leave their house!

I’ve long admired how Black women raise such polite young men and women. I’ve thought to myself, damn! They know how to raise them right! I had no idea that this is part of their learned self-protection. It’s part of their “How to stay alive when you walk out the door” manual. Young Black children are taught to look as innocent and harmless as possible… just so they won’t get assaulted or killed. They have it drilled into their heads (by actually practicing) what to do – raise hands, what to say – speaking very slowly and calmly.. I am so-n-so, I am unarmed, I mean you no harm.

I’ve read accounts from Black men who say they NEVER go for a walk in their neighborhood alone. They always take measures to look harmless and innocent… walk with a dog, bring the children along, keep their hood down… all so they can go for a walk in their own neighborhood.

Are you kidding me with all of this? I have never once had to arm myself by appearing innocent and harmless. Why?

Because I have privilege.

“Black Lives Matter”. The first time I heard this, I responded (out of ignorance) that “All Lives Matter”. Now I understand that saying All lives matter is like saying all babies should eat. Of course they should! No one can argue that babies shouldn’t eat! It’s a platitude. But, I have learned. Now when I say Black Lives Matter, I mean they matter, more! Black people deserve to be treated as people! In no way less than any of their non-Black fellow humans.

I have lived my entire life with the priviledge to IGNORE what is going on in America. I have lived with the privilege to look away because it is too painful or uncomfortable to look at it, and I could let people who know about such things can take care of them. I have lived with the priviledge of being white in America and have unintentionally perpetuated centuries of Black oppression and racism.

It’s on me that I didn’t know all of this much sooner. That cannot be changed. What does matter is that I do know it now. During the past days of protesting, my eyes and my heart have been pierced and cracked open to a depth I never realized I needed to allow before. But no more.

I hereby revoke my PRIVILEGE to IGNORE racism and oppression.

It’s time to wake up. It’s time to stand up. It’s time to change the world.

If any of this sounds tone deaf, please forgive me. I still have much to learn and there is still much I do not understand, but Black people of the world, I stand with you.

What are you ready and willing to do?

RESOURCES and More…

If you’re looking for resources, follow this link for a list of people to follow, books to read and share, organizations to support, etc. Resources

40 Ways you can help right now: How to Help

Black-owned Bookstores to buy from: Bookstores

100 Black-owned Etsy Shops you can support: Etsy

Do’s and Don’ts, how to ally: Ally

Emmanuel Acho answers questions by white people: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black man

Black Lives Matter: BLM

I’ll continue to update this list as I come across useful resources.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. One of the best longreads❤️❤️
    Love from India!

    Like

  2. tberry1818 says:

    Every one is hurting economically. What would work is if blacks got together with poor whites and both addressed economic issues of low income individuals. That and addressing very, very specifically what is allowed when arresting people so incidents like the George Floyd incident never happened again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two good points! As we move through the pain we are experiencing, I hope that more and more concrete action steps begin to emerge. What is clear is that we cannot go back to the way things were (I realize things are still as they were, but at least we are at a tipping point). Will everything we try work? Undoubtedly not. But progress is better than perfection for now! Thanks for your comments. 🙏🏼

      Like

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