Illustration by Andrew Gillespie
I am 40 years old, and I'm finally figuring out that I haven't been using my white privilege appropriately. No, that's a lie. I've known it for years. I'm just now willing to admit it and work toward fixing the problem.
My overall suckyness in this area was brought to my attention by a black woman who I love: one of the many black people who are pretty much “over-it” with white people. I had noticed that she wasn't responding to my Facebook messages in the same way that she used to so, finally, after about a year of noticing this, I asked her what was going on.
She replied honestly that it was hard for her to be friends with white people. She had a lot of white friends who she always imagined would have her back, but now – after many of years of seeing them post activist statements on Facebook in support of the environment, or gay rights, or whatever, and not seeing very much about racism – it caused her to feel like racism wasn't really a priority for her white friends.
In my corporal walking-around human life I do address racism, though I discuss it far more often with children than I do with adults. Obviously it is important to talk about racism with kids, but I'll admit that this is also my comfort zone. I should have more conversations with adults about racism. Especially those who are more educated than me.
I have moved across the country many times. The majority of friends who I've accumulated throughout my life never see me in person. It's likely that at least half of them will never see me again. At this point in our culture's development we have to acknowledge that most of us have an internet personality as well as a corporal personality. And I have realized that my internet personality is an embarrassingly passive white girl.
I read posts that others make about racism and I have been affected by them. It is through other people's personal experiences that have been conveyed on the internet (supplemented by conversations with friends) that I have come to my current understanding of my white privileged.
It wouldn't take any extra time for me to share those posts that shift my thinking about racism. It wouldn't take anything from me at all, except perhaps a little more bravery about exposing confrontational thoughts that have changed me.
Perhaps if I worried every day about my children getting hurt or humiliated when they head off to school because of the color of their skin, I might share those articles and essays.
Or maybe I still wouldn't.
Because sometimes it's actually harder to publicly advocate for yourself. Because you have so much at stake, and because people accuse you of making it up, or being dramatic. Doesn't it usually mean more when the problem is so obvious that even people who aren't personally affected notice and demand that it stop?
I think we can all see this easily in smaller examples. At school, when someone is being bullied, we don't expect that vulnerable person to do all the work to stand up for himself and make everything stop. We easily recognize that the vulnerable, bullied child needs backup – a lot of backup – from people who are not getting bullied. We expect the surrounding children to stand up for the victim, and we expect the administration and the parents to support the victim too. All of those support systems are required to make the instance of one little human getting bullied to come to a halt. And that is why we are all integral in this fight against racism.
I've learned, partially from the internet, that as a white person I have a very important voice in this fight. And the louder I make my voice, the better. Right now it seems that the internet is the greatest bullhorn we have.
The internet is not my comfort zone. At. All. But it is impossible to make a difference while staying in our comfort zones. So, it's just another thing I'll need to learn to become comfortable with.
Another lesson I've learned is that – in order for some of us to gain better perspective – sometimes things have to become more personal. For me, realizing that I had hurt someone I love because I wasn't using my voice as loudly as I should be, really made a difference.
I will also commend the friend who decided to tell me what she thought. Because I know that she is really tired of explaining things to white people. And there was a huge part of her that did not want to have that conversation with me. I know she has done that conversation about fifty million times. I appreciate that she did it again, for the fifty million and oneth time. I'll try to make it worth her energy.
PS – The following quote inspired me to write this:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
- the Talmud