This post first appeared in “The Finger Lakes Times” as the weekly column, Denim Spirit: http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-a-letter-to-my-fellow-white-people/article_70611f39-c96d-5cad-a62a-6475d871a72e.html
Nothing I can say will ever reach Donald Trump so it is pointless to subject you to that kind of rant. Nor are there any Confederate war hero monuments in Geneva (that I know of), so a Northern know-it-all squawking about something going on elsewhere does not seem useful either.
But to you, my dear “white” brothers and sisters, allow me to urge your attention toward a renewed opportunity we have, right now, to reckon with ourselves and with one another.
We have the opportunity to curl our fingers back from pointing at anyone else, and to stifle our criticism of any organization, group, class, or race of people. We have the opportunity, right now, to look solely into our own prejudices, and take stock of our own privilege, and how those prejudices and that privilege have been used by us, and by others, to marginalize people of different colors and ethnicities.
We have a renewed opportunity, right now, to once again recognize that God created us as interdependent creatures that need and require relationships of mutuality in order to sustain wellness for any of us. If you don’t believe in God, then you are probably even more aware of the environmental science that describes the same thing.
We have a renewed opportunity, now and always, to recognize that race is a social construct – an erroneous assumption that European and North American Caucasians have used for centuries in order to justify colonialist foreign policies; and used to establish so-called social sciences that elevate people with our skin tone and ethnic background over others; and in ways we haven’t even recognized yet, used race to oppress.
Yes, we even have the renewed opportunity, right now, to jettison that wasteful emotional ballast we call guilt, for those things done and left undone by previous generations. Instead, we can dig into our own current moment in history to look at ourselves: our own language, our own behavior, our own political and economic choices – and then make changes.
We have a renewed opportunity, because of the mayhem of the past weeks, to look at ourselves and talk about our prejudices and our privilege. We could, if we take the opportunity, walk into the future with better behavior and as better allies to those who have historically suffered from our racial politics, racial economics, and racial social policies.
For reasons I do not fully understand even today, we of the color known as white, have great difficulty talking with one another about race and privilege in a non-defensive, open-to-learning kind of way. We are better at talking about sexual dysfunction and bowel hygiene than getting honest and open about race. But making progress on minimizing our prejudices, and strengthening our alliances with people of different colors, for the benefit of all, requires that you and I talk out loud with one another about our bigotries and fears, the influence of our privilege, and what we are willing and able to do to help make things better.