My white privilege is my responsibility

The first time I can remember noticing the difference in people’s skin color was in second grade… the fact it was not even a thought for me until that time shows the privilege from which I have lived my life. I noticed the difference in skin color when Mark was part of our class. It wasn’t merely that Mark was in our class, but it was the way in which Mark was treated by our teacher. Mark was part of a program that bused kids (black kids) from the other side of town to our school. I am sure it was some plan for “equity” but what resulted was one kid in a class full of kids he didn’t know. He was the clear outsider and the teacher only continued this journey for him. Mark had hearing aids and the teacher would often call him out on if they were on. Mark kept to himself and never said much. The teacher treated him poorly… and I still wonder about Mark today… and my heart hurts when I think about this experience. I know now my privilege is that I was observing such discrimination and was not the recipient of it.

As I continued my education, there would be countless examples of when my privilege was learning about race through formal education or observation, but once again the fact I didn’t experience it speaks to my position in life. I could choose when and if I thought about it. I could choose if and when I spoke up or didn’t speak up. While I have made many choices that have given me opportunities to learn, explore race, social justice, and responsibility, it was always my choice. I got to pick to examine what it means to be white. I got to pick that I explore my bias, conscious or unconscious. I got to pick if and when I listened to those who didn’t look like me. That is my privilege.

I spent a good part of my 20s feeling incredibly guilty for my privilege… for being white. As I counseled individuals who looked nothing like me and my experience could not even come close to understanding their daily encounter with racism, I would let guilt overwhelm me. At some point, I realized guilt was never going to help me or help others. I cannot change that I was born white, but what I can do is realize my responsibility in life. And I am not talking about the responsibility of not using derogatory terms or sharing racist memes… I am talking about responsibility in the form of realizing the systems that continue to oppress some and elevate others,  helping to be a voice for the change of systems…

I am talking about being willing to have conversations with my six-year-old white son… When I was pregnant, Matthew and I went to Galveston for a long weekend. On the way home, a pick-up sped past us. Flying from the back was a gigantic confederate flag. I started to cry (like full-on cry). I asked Matthew how I was ever going to explain a confederate flag to our child. I imagined us driving one day and him seeing the flag and asking what it meant. I cried about having to explain such hate… and that honestly is the biggest privilege for me and my son. I cried about having to talk to him about our racist history… while there are mothers who cry because that hate will kill their son…

My responsibility is to talk with my son, even at age six, about the horrible parts of our history as much as the amazing parts. I am honest when he asks about Martin Luther King and the Civil War. It is a privilege we can ignore being white, but it is my responsibility to teach him about it. It is my responsibility to not only teach him not to be ugly but to guide him on how you stand up to others when they are. While it is true kids aren’t born hating people with a different color skin, it is not enough for me just to raise him not to hate.

I will never have to worry that my white son going for a run could result in him being shot for just being white… this is my privilege, this is my son’s privilege… and every day I must choose… how this privilege will be my responsibility. Will I do it perfectly, absolutely not. Must I continue to listen, learn, listen, ask questions, listen, listen, listen, listen… YES! I am not guilty because I am white, I am guilty if I don’t acknowledge my privilege from being white and take responsibility and action.

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