Like most Americans, I watched the news events unfolding in Ferguson, MO in shock and disbelief. What happened there reveals an ugly wound in American culture that might not be news to black Americans, but probably is to white Americans. And that is a huge part of the problem.
It would be very easy to be able to say the problem is in Ferguson, MO. Shooting an unarmed teenage and then leaving his body to lie in the street for ours was despicable. But the fact is that it could have happened almost anywhere in the USA. I have lived on the east coast, the west coast and in the Midwest and the location doesn’t matter.
Racism is alive and well in our country. And the fact that most white Americans don’t see it is a great example of white privilege. The fact of the matter is that we do NOT live in a color blind culture. And frankly, I’m not convinced that this is the goal anyway. So let’s stop pretending and let’s start talking.
When many white Americans hear the words ‘white privilege,’ we get defensive or go to denial or feel guilty, but these responses will not heal the American race wound. What will help is for white Americans to feel empathy for black Americans. You know the saying, ‘you can’t know someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes,’ well this is what I am talking about. Until we as a people can embrace both black and white experiences, how can we begin to understand each other? And the fact is that too many white Americans cannot even begin to understand much less empathize with black Americans.
When white Americans begin to understand and internalize what it is like for black Americans to participate in a society in which no matter how hard they work or how smart they are, they are still seen for the color of their skin before they are seen for their abilities or accomplishments then we will start to heal some of the divide that separates us as a country.
Two times in my life I have had the opportunity to participate in a very powerful exercise that shows this in very clear terms. It is sometimes called the “Privilege Walk Exercise.”
This exercise illustrates that race trumps economics in our culture and that no matter what advantages black Americans may have, they are still black in America and as such they do not enjoy the same privileges and advantages that white Americans do. The converse is also true: no matter what economic status a white American adult has, they/we always have an unfair advantage in our country because of white privilege. Period. And just because you don’t see it, doesn’t make it untrue.
For a great explanation on the “Privilege Walk Exercise” please read The Exercise that Opened up my Eyes to White Privilege by Jill Anne. Jill Anne’s reaction was similar to most white Americans. It is eye-opening and disturbing and hopefully motivating.
This wound can be healed. I have seen it happen when my (then) teenage son participated in a yearlong leadership program to teach black and Jewish teens in St. Louis about each others’ cultures. The teens learned how to come together and problem-solve the issues that racism and anti-semitism cause in their own lives. It was heart-warming to participate as a parent, and it was inspiring to watch the teens go through this process. We need more programs like this in our country.
I have assembled a great (short) list of fabulous news stories, blogs and even video that will make your blood boil, even if they are not news to you. The first video is a wonderful social experiment and I am grateful that these two young men took the time to risk putting it together.
Why I Fear for My Sons by Kimberley Norwood
Pastor Matt Chandler Speaks Up About ‘White Privilege’ by Jeffrey Scott
Thank you to my dear friend, Jeanne Townsend who has posted most of these stories on Facebook.
So what are we to do about this long standing American tradition, American’s race wound?
First, let’s stop denying that a problem exists. Next let’s figure out how to talk to each other about these issues. White Americans need to start listening to black Americans. Really listen.
If you want to start being part of the solution, instead of the problem, find a local anti-racism group in your community. Another idea is to read books that explore these issues. Educate yourself.
Silence on the black-white issue in America means complacency and that is no solution to the stain we have in our country today called racism.
As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!