I am white and middle-class. I have privileges I don’t even know about. What I know about racism could fit on a postage stamp. Compared to my friends who are African-American, Asian American, Hispanic American—who are not White American—what I know about being seen as unequal in the eyes of others, I’m sure, is no bigger than a postage stamp. But in the wake of what has been happening in our country – has always been happening in our country, but has gotten more attention lately – I decided I should say something. Anything.
In the past, I have had some glimpses of what it might be like to be in that day-to-day struggle. Here are a couple of examples…
- One day in the fourth grade, I was finishing up in the washroom when a student from another class ran in. She was in tears. A group of students came in after her and started pushing her around. I told them to stop it, what they were doing was wrong, when the leader of the pack turned to me and said, “Is she brown or is she black?” I looked at the terrified girl then back to the leader and said, “She’s whatever she says she is.” And then I ran out of the washroom and got my teacher. The girl and I started a friendship that lasted through high school.
- A few years after graduating university, I meet a group of friends from school at a 5 star restaurant in downtown Seattle. We had reservations and one of us brought a plus one. No problem, we were assured. We were led through the elaborate dining room with high ceilings and chandeliers, and marveled at the quiet elegance of the place. We were seated at a long table covered with white linen and candles. My friend of African descent sat across from me and we couldn’t wait to catch up on each other’s lives. My friend asked for a table service – as everyone else had a knife, fork and spoon, but her. The waiter nodded and said ‘Right away.’ But it wasn’t right away. Even when our appetizers came and everyone else dug in, she still had no utensils with which to eat her food, and the waiter continued to ignore her. When I made a move to pluck a service from the neighboring table, my friend stopped me. She said, “I asked him to bring me a service.” I responded, “But it’s right there. Let me get it for you!” She shook her head, her eyes told me how deeply she had been hurt, before she whispered, “That wasn’t the point.”
I will never understand the privilege I have because I’m white. I will never understand what it’s like to be in a society that undermines and rejects me because of the color of my skin. But I dream of a day when my brothers and sister of all colors and creeds can work and live alongside one another in peace and harmony, treating one another as they would like to be treated.
This is a precarious time in our nation. We white folks will do well to understand the fact that we do not comprehend what our brothers and sisters of color face every single day.
Keep your hearts open and your compassion real. There will never be peace until we become color blind – meaning, when there is a time when we are judged not by the color of our skin but the content of our character.
Here are a few links that have helped me understand: