When I was maybe six years old, I was already being programmed by society. My babysitter, one of my mother’s students, (we’ll call her E.), was putting me to bed. I remember looking at her and telling her, “You’re beautiful, even though your skin isn’t this color” (I said this pointing to the skin on my own arm). You see, I had already been instructed by countless images on t.v. and in all manner of advertising, that beautiful women were white. WhiteWhiteWhiteWhiteWhite. Preferably with blonde hair and blue eyes. But most definitely – White.
I was already learning that I had privilege, and that I was entitled to it. Even growing up in New York City, going to school with kids from all different cultures and ethnicities. I looked like the teachers. My parents were teachers. White people were teachers. I learned that white people knew what was best.
So now I am confessing. I’m confessing to the assumptions that I’ve bought into in the past. To the privileges that I’ve freely benefitted from. Because friends, this isn’t an academic exercise. People are dying. Black people. It’s been open season on white people killing black people in this country with impunity, and the only way we’re going to end this for us to admit to our privilege. White people have to dismantle this. White people have to stop killing black people. And while I’ve never pulled a trigger, I’ve never owned a slave, (my own family was effectively enslaved by the Tsar while slavery was legal in the U.S.), I have absolutely benefitted from the legacy of slavery in this country because I’m white.
I confess that I’d bought into the lie that “this is an isolated incident.” Oh sure, in the case of Rodney King there was a video, so we knew about that. But in the few other instances (because surely this wasn’t a frequent occurrence!), there must be explanations and we should wait to hear all the facts. I bought into that lie. But now we all have smartphones with cameras. Now I can’t ignore it. Now I know better. So forgive me, Holy One, and forgive me, brothers and sisters, for I have sinned. I have refused to see what was right in front of me. But I know better now. These are not isolated incidents. These are daily occurrences. Five hundred sixty-six people have been killed by police so far this year in the United States, and the year is barely half over. Five hundred sixty-six. Three more people have been killed since Philando Castile was killed yesterday. The Guardian newspaper keeps a running tally. Oh, and in case you were wondering, 136 of the people killed by police so far this year were black.
I confess that I bought into the “we’re all the same” lie. I think that, back in the ’70’s and ’80’s, we genuinely believed that “we’re all the same” was really the way to go. I didn’t understand that it meant erasing someone else’s culture and asking people to assimilate to the dominant culture. It’s probably better than “othering” – but asking someone else to change to accommodate me isn’t truly recognizing that person as an equal. Just as I love my own cultural heritage, everyone must have this privilege.
I confess that I’d bought into the default setting for human as white. It probably wasn’t a conscious decision, but that’s the thing about privilege – I have the privilege of not thinking about a lot of things. I’ve never been pulled over for driving while white. I’ve never been followed around a store for shopping while white (even though, by the way, the most common shoplifter in America is a middle-aged white woman). I’ve had to consciously train myself to not think of the default setting as white. I can’t say for sure how much I still do it, because, well, it’s a subconscious thing. But I can say that where I have trained myself, my eyes have been opened WIDE.
And speaking of having my eyes opened wide – I confess to having bought into the lie of the white savior. You know the white savior, don’t you? I refer you to the second paragraph above – white people know best, after all. I bought into that lie about wonderful liberal white people going into those poor countries and communities to save those poor unfortunates. So we end up with movies like “The Blind Side” where the wonderful rich white woman saves the poor black teenager who surely wouldn’t have been able to do anything himself. I confess I had savior fantasies. I would go and save the world. Because I was so smart and wonderful. And I should be the one to speak and lead because I KNOW WHAT’S BEST. Or, maybe not. It took me a while to figure out that maybe my voice isn’t the one that needs to be heard. That maybe I could help best by asking people how I might be able to help rather than coming in like a bulldozer and telling them what they need.
This is my confession. I didn’t grow up in lily-white America. I grew up in multicultural New York City. And I still had a lot to learn, and I probably still have plenty more to learn. I don’t have all the answers. I know this. It is us – the white folks, who are going to have to fess up to our privilege and then leverage it. We’re going to have to admit to all the ways we’ve been benefiting and all the assumptions we’ve bought into. And we — people WE are going to have to stop the unbounded killing of black people.
#PhilandoCastile #AltonSterling Say Their Names #BlackLivesMatter
That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.