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Monday, December 15, 2014

Trying To Get It

Though I've worked alongside and had them as neighbors a good part of my life, denying there's often been a missing element in my relationships with black people would be dishonest. That missing element? Genuine and sustained conversation about race and privilege.

I've got many of the badges I've sometimes noticed white people wear as racial bona fides. For example, black folks have shared important moments in my life - one of the speakers at my retirement celebration was a close colleague for over twelve years. He and his wife have been to my home for dinner; they're not the only African-Americans my wife and I have entertained. If that colleague or any other black person with whom I've had close and prolonged contact reads this post, I sincerely hope they are not hurt by what I say here. At the same time, I would be surprised if any of them were taken aback.

A few months ago, NY Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof began a provocatively titled series: "When White People Don't Get It". Kristof's words have stung me, angered me, educated me. Most of all, they've lingered with me. Several times, soon after finishing his column, I started then abandoned a blog post - my insights felt meager. But with every breaking story, avoiding race in my tiny corner of the blogosphere has started to feel evasive and dishonest. And once again, I suspect I'm not alone on the bell curve. Anyone in my mostly white world want to talk about the last genuine conversation you had with a black person about race and privilege?


  1. I made myself pledge to answer whatever post came up next from you...and I'm relieved it wasn't one about literature, where I am still happily relaxing with the likes of Stephen King, or music, where my interests remain with the acoustic guitar and simple harmonies... both of which make me realize my simplistic, non-educated, happy place. This post was perfect! So thank you!

    White privilege is something that I have struggled with for a long time. As a teacher of children with behavior and emotional disabilities, I have, more often than not, found myself the minority race in the classroom. Over the years, however, I have come to realize this is not a product of the color of skin my students own as much as where they have been born and asked to grow up. My first teaching job found me in the classroom with boys who were on probation for various crimes. They were of varying races and skin tones, but one thing they shared was their inner-city homes. We had many conversations about our different backgrounds, opportunities, and such. One thing that struck me was that they were born into circumstances to which they had to either acquiesce or climb out. I was born into circumstances that naturally nurtured my childhood self, no need to climb out and plenty of opportunity to succeed just where I was planted.

    Now as I foster a child who is Haitian and African American, I am once again given the opportunity to fully feel my white privilege. It has been a challenge to offer this child our home and our circumstances without feeling that his life will be 'better' because his parents decided to allow him to leave, not them, but their dire living circumstances. Is this their fault? Are they any less capable as parents? If given the opportunity to live where I live, could they have succeeded in raising this child? I think they could have, though we cannot ever really know the answers to these questions in a society where charity must pick up the pieces left when justice does not exist.

    One thing I am thankful for is that my experiences have made me comfortable discussing race and attacking the injustices of racial segregation...and yes, it does still exist, if not by law, then by the nature of our country's birth and subsequent city limits. When racial inequality is discussed with the goal of justice in mind, it is the voices of the white privileged folks that must be raised, for they are the voices with power in our society.

    Thank you, Pat, for your honest post...d.

  2. d; Before I respond to your thoughtful comment, allow me to first react to the part re your reading and music tastes: I too love simple acoustic guitar and harmony and straightforward writing. Never been a big fan of Stephen King's novels, but I loved his memoir ("On Writing") and everything I've ever heard or read about him as a person, husband, Dad tells me I'd like him as human being as well.

    As usual, your comment re the substantive part of my post reminds me why I wanted to start blogging almost four years ago. My experience has been that many white folks don't give much thought to the privilege their skin color confers on them. Though I'm not surprised you have thought about it, I'm pleased you decided to respond to this post in such an honest way. This post was difficult for me to write but I'm finding the news these days so disturbing.