Updated: Dec 1, 2022
I had lived most of my life before I understood the reality of white privilege. I had seen the reality of racism from a very early age as the neighborhood bully spat in my friend, Michael Ann’s face and snarled, “If I punched you, would you get a white eye?” At 8 years old, I was horrified and angry that someone could be so mean to another person. Michael Ann, on the other hand, seemed to let it roll off her back.
Shortly after Trayvon Martin’s murder, I was having a conversation with 2 colleagues – both mothers of teen age sons, both African American. “Didn’t his parents ever have the talk with him?” Janet said. “What does the Birds and the Bees have to do with someone getting shot? I countered. Keisha looked at me at said patiently, “Different talk, Janice, different talk.”
In my world the sex talk was the only talk there was. I didn’t know there was another world where parents talked to their sons about what to do WHEN they got pulled over by a cop, how to behave if they found themselves in a neighborhood not their own, confronted by someone that didn’t look like them, what they should and shouldn’t wear on their heads if they wanted to stay alive. I didn’t know because I’d never heard of that talk.
My parents never had it with my brother because he’s white, because they are white. I looked at my colleagues and saw on their faces a pain I would never have to feel. I saw their shoulders slumped with a weight I would never have to carry – because I’m white.
I thought again about the incident with Michael Ann and understood that the reason she seemed calmed, almost unaffected by the bully’s words was not because it didn’t bother her, but because, at the tender age of 8, she was already being trained to handle the racist insults that would be hurled at her for the rest of her life.
And I realized it wasn’t enough for me to be horrified, to be angry. That alone wasn’t going to change things for people I loved. I realized I had a lot to do, a lot to learn to become a true ally. I had learned about the history of racism in our country, but was just beginning to examine my privilege.
I voted in every election but needed to get active in protecting that right for others. I had done a lot of talking but not enough listening. So now I try to lead with listening, to examine my personal experiences and uncover my biases, to look for more ways to use the power that comes with my privilege.
There’s a lot of work for me to do. But I’m committed to working on myself so I can do more work in the world.
Previously published at: https://positivelypowerstories.com/positively-powerstories-episode-9/