What One Person Can Do to Overcome White Privilege
After the George Floyd attack, one of my Black friends asked:
I would like my non-black friends to answer this question...Why are we still having the same conversations in 2020 that we’ve been having since at least the Reconstruction Era?
I thought about that question for a long time. This post is probably the 17th or so I've started after erasing the first 16. I'm white, I'm nervous, I'm scared I'll say the wrong thing in the wrong way or sound insensitive or naive or privileged or ignorant or racist. After the 16th erased response, I considered not writing at all because it kept me safe from sounding so very white.
However, obviously, silence is consent (allow me one platitude), and I can hear the understandable (and restrained!) WTF tone behind that opening question. So here's my 17th post, and ultimately, I don't have an answer to the question, Why are we still having the same conversations in 2020, in 2022, that we've had since... [really, you could fill in the blank with any time period].
"Why" questions can be helpful, but so quickly put people on the defensive because, really, there is no acceptable answer to "why" and as a white person, I know that. I know many whites before me are the reason why this conversation is on repeat. I know that many contemporary whites are the reason why the conversation will likely keep happening. I can't change those before me, and changing those around me?
Hatred of self is no more productive than hatred of others.
Therein lies the crux of the problem—changing systems and laws is one thing; changing people, changing human nature, and getting others to overcome human weaknesses or fear of differences? Getting them (us/me) to see an entire lifetime of experience as unjustly privileged or wrong or invalid? To see our very identity—even one built largely on ignorance or simply lack of exposure—vilified? Hatred of self is no more productive than hatred of others.
I wish the principles of ethical and moral justness were enough to motivate change. Clearly, it's not—not enough to change inside people where, if it happens, it's more likely to survive and mitigate the need for this recurring conversation. Yes, the fight for justness should never stop (sadly, I believe it will always be needed on behalf of one group or another). However, for me, as a white person who lives in a largely white community, I try. I really, really try. I try the best I can to create relationships and to use those relationships to change people—to change myself!—and base that change on answers to a question like, What can I/we do to avoid having the same conversation 1, 5, 10, 20, etc. years from now?
The answer might be very similar to the answer to the "why" question. The answer might be difficult to figure out and require time and patience and not a little graciousness on the part of those hurt the most. But it’s the PROCESS of finding the answer to the "what" question that for me, as a white person, allows me and others to build relationships, to connect—to, as that same Black friend also said, "gain perspective...[develop] compassion...and love.”
I will do and change just about anything for those I love.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I believe LOVE (relationships) is the most powerful tool to change people.
How have you helped others to change?
How have you changed yourself?