"I'm not sure if we should be having this discussion…"
"No...no, let's have this discussion. Let's have it right now."
These words were not said in anger. They were said among friends who were sharing some time and some beer together over the internet. We're from all walks of life and backgrounds. Some of us from Savannah Georgia, some recently moved to Virginia, some from Brazil,and me...well...I'm a California transplant to Oregon. I haven't had a whole lot of personal experience with racism except for the fact that I viewed it from the sidelines.
The man who invited the discussion is a black man who understands the reasons behind the demands to remove the Confederate flag. He has worked to get the Confederate flag removed. He is more than willing to share his experiences with us, his friends. And I'm glad he did.
I have always recognized the fact that I am a privileged person of white descent. I am German/Irish-Canadian. I knew that when I went to school I had good teachers with all the resources they needed to teach me. This was from my earliest age. I have never been asked to work harder to "prove" myself because I'm white. I have never had someone look at me nervously in a public place because of the color of my skin. Anytime I apply for a program, I never have to wonder if that person decided I was just a little less "deserving" because I'm white.
Now, I view most of us, White, Black, Hispanic, Indian, African, and all the different colors of people who come here from the eastern part of the world as having pretty equal treatment in this progressive northwest community. Which is why I have to stand up and recognize that I have white privilege.
Just because my community recognizes equality in general doesn't mean that we don't have white privilege. We need to be very careful because that line of thought can lead to ignoring the fact that racism happens. It happens in the best of communities, it happens overtly in other parts of the country, and if we are not careful, we could be led into thinking that it just doesn't happen or couldn't happen here.
We should recognize, and teach our children, that people have been slaves a lot longer than they have been free in this country. My son thinks that people who treat others different because of skin color are just dumb. He sees no difference between himself and another child in school no matter what they look like. But if I allow him to think it didn't happen at all, I would be doing everyone who is still under the influence of racism a disservice. I would be denying the recognition of those who were slaves in my own American history.
When I was about 30, I did have some friends who would think that anyone who looked vaguely Mexican should be picking beans and fruit. They would never consider anyone like that a candidate for a professional position, a leadership position, or a position of equality within the social structure they were used to. So….I dumped them. I walked away from them as casually as I would walk away from a badly made latte at Starbucks. But in doing so, I also cut off all the conversation that could have happened.
So when my friend Randy said, "Let's have this discussion," I listened. And I told him my views. And I realized that keeping silent on my white privilege was doing other people a disservice.
So what do we do? How do we fix this horrifying problem that is so embarrassing that we don't even want to admit to it?
Treat everyone, no matter what skin color, race, sexual orientation, or social situation, as a human being deserving of the rights and privileges that we all enjoy.
Teach your children. Teach them that slavery and racism happened, it is still happening now. That people who are different are being treated as lesser human beings, and that it is WRONG.
Recognize your privilege, and when you see that your privilege is impinging on someone else's rights, speak up. Whether it is a reservation at a restaurant, someone who needs assistance through a program, or how people are represented in a media story. Yes, you might lose your spot in line. You might be turned away at your favorite restaurant, you might even lose some friends. The people you speak up for may never even be grateful, but you will make it plain that the privilege you enjoy is not enjoyed by everyone, and that is wrong.
When enough people...teach enough children….and enough governments and communities bow to the inevitable pressure to treat every single person as an equal human being…then, and only then, will be it be something we will only read in books.
And I too am glad we are having this discussion. I am glad we are having this discussion right now.