Challenging My White Privilege

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Good gracious, y’all. What a time it’s been, huh? A global pandemic that will. Just. Not. Quit. The politicizing of everything about that pandemic. Racial unrest like I’ve never seen in all my 50 years.

Time to think about all the things, which, let’s be honest – is both a blessing and a curse.

I started working on this post way back in early June when I was still reeling from the (then recently-discovered) killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and the murder of George Floyd. Turns out, more than six weeks later, I’m still reeling from all of it.

And it’s fraught, isn’t it?

And also really personal, because people feel differently about things, start in different places, have different experiences, want different things, and are ready to make changes in varying degrees.

So, this is my journey – a journey I’m still in the middle of… 

(Please note: These are my thoughts and opinions, not that of Columbia Mom as a whole.)

Maybe you’re wondering what all the fuss is about. Maybe you’re looking for a place to start. Or even wondering if what our friends of color are saying is true. Or wondering how to process and think about it all – because most of it is not pretty.

I used to dismiss certain claims by people of color with a knee-jerk reaction and carry on my merry way. But something about this group of killings has shattered me and left me feeling more helpless and hopeless than ever.

And I realized that my reactions and dismissals were arrogant. Who was I – a privileged white woman – to pass judgment on claims people of color make? I haven’t lived their experience so I don’t get to decide. I have to follow the lead of people who actually know. And that’s not me.

Even before this spring, I’d been trying to figure out how to make some meaningful changes and what those would look like. I wanted to get serious about significant work to benefit my community, and I think I knew I wanted it to be dealing with racial inequality. It was important to me to do it within my faith, so I looked to my favorite faith leaders to see which people of color they were following and learning from and began to expand my social media feeds.

I thought of my friends of color and how it must be so different for them to live in this world – not all rainbows and unicorns like it is for me. When Ahmaud was killed, I stepped up my learning (I started with my favorite faith leaders’ recommendations and expanded from there) and began reading more books and seeking out more voices to listen to. 

Speaking of listening, LISTEN. Don’t talk just yet. JUST LISTEN.

Working for racial equality is ABSOLUTELY our fight, but the fight isn’t ours to define. I, as a privileged white woman, don’t get to say, “No that’s not racist,” or “No, that’s not offensive.” Just like a man doesn’t get to tell me what it’s like to live as a woman.

My husband, The Professor, and I were having a Debate-with-a-capital-D about this weeks ago. And also, the other day. And the other one before that. And the other one, too. (We’ve been chatting a lot.) He is empathetic and works hard to bring women into his departments, and comments from his female colleagues support this.

But even with all of that awareness and intention, he’s never had my experiences, which I know are not unique to me: a boss suggesting (in front of my male coworkers) I perform an oral s*x act on customers to thank them for their business. Various body parts grabbed as I walk down a street or make my way through a crowd trying to get to a bathroom. Or a boss saying, “I like that sweater you’re wearing – you’ve got a really fun school girl vibe going on.” Or been asked to take notes in a meeting even though I’m not the most-junior or lowest-ranking person there.

So, he can do as much as he can with his position and support the women he lives with and works with, but it’s not HIS experience. It’s simply not.

Much like, if you’re white, you haven’t lived the Black experience. You simply have not. And that’s OK. You don’t have to get defensive about that. If you’re not Black, you haven’t had that experience and probably will not have seen things the same way.

But as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Back in October, I posted about my kids’ school – a racist student had threatened to shoot up the school. In that post, I said I don’t understand how this is still happening, but as I’m learning more, I do. It’s simply how our society was built. As a white person, if I’m not looking for it, I won’t even be aware of it, because it doesn’t hurt me.

It’s like if you DON’T have a sore throat. Your throat’s working well, so you don’t even notice it. You’re not aware of your throat until something goes wrong with it. I don’t feel my throat if it’s well. I just live with it, unaware. I think this is what it’s like to be white. We’re not consciously aware of the systemic racism because it’s not broken for us.

Historical facts show us that white privilege and power were very deliberate and intentional. We OWNED people. OWNING PEOPLE is about nothing but power. And if that’s how our country was started and built, even as laws changed, a passive (maybe) and assumptive power hierarchy remained. I heard it described as trying to explain to a fish that it’s wet. It knows nothing else, so isn’t aware of being wet.

Laws can change, but attitudes and assumptions permeate through the generations and societies, so things don’t always change.

I’ve been trying to step back, challenge my assumptions, and learn about different experiences. For starters, I’m reading different books than I previously have. These are some of the books I’ve read: 

In addition to reading these books, I’ve also been watching different movies, and listening to different voices. Voices that HAVE and DO live the Black experience in America. And once you’re open to their truth and really listen and start to notice things, you can’t NOT see it for yourself.

I only recently heard of the Tulsa Massacre for the very first time in my whole entire life. I said something to the Professor about it and he said he’d never heard of it either.

BUT THAT IS EXACTLY THE POINT.

Look at this horrible event that happened and we’ve never even heard of it. Because the winners write history and of course are going to make themselves look as good as they can – by skimming over the grosser things they’ve done. I do it myself when I’m telling a story – I’ll gloss over my worst transgressions because brutal honesty can be… well… brutal.

So what now?

I’m reading and listening and learning and processing and trying to figure out how to move forward in a way that will benefit my community. What local organizations are doing the work that needs my help? How can I show my kids the kind of people I want them to be? How can I be sure that I’m doing my part? How can we as a family be good allies and friends to people of color in our lives?

It’s a lot of work. And it’s hard. To confront your own personal shortcomings, the institutional shortcomings, and change them? Get uncomfortable with yourself and your family and friends? It’s not great. But it’s important and if we all do our part, maybe someday soon there really will be justice for all.

How is this latest spate of racial unrest affecting you? What are you doing about it? 

 

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Wildly in love with her perfectly imperfect life, Kathy’s been married to her most favorite person in the world, “The Professor,” for 14 years. They moved to Columbia from Atlanta seven years ago and are enjoying raising their two girls, Gracie (12½) and Tate (10) here. After undergrad and her MBA, Kathy worked in Corporate America for 10 years before retiring to work full-time for the girls. Most recently, she was a grant writer at a college here in town, but had to leave that job when her family moved to New Zealand for six months for The Professor’s sabbatical. She started her blog, kathygoeskiwi.com, to document that amazing adventure, but now she’s home and trying to figure out what to do with her life. Again. Probably the loudest and most foul-mouthed introvert you’ll ever meet, she can usually be found curled up with a trashy romance novel, on the tennis court, at her awesome gym, or drinking wine with people she loves.

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