Prairie View

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Do You Experience White Privilege?

Last week, for the second time, I read this article on white privilege.  Since everyone else in the Leadership Reno County class also read the article at the same time, I had the benefit of listening to others' response to the article.  Unfortunately this was the first time the class member who is a native Kenyan was absent, although I'm not sure how his presence would have changed the conversation.  Nothing in the perspectives that he has shared so far suggests that he carries a chip on his shoulder.  Nevertheless, I think having had him in the room would have forced all of us to consider carefully how our words and attitudes affect those among us whose stakes in such discussions are very different from our own.  The article itself highlighted this.

My own family consists of an assortment of racial and ethnic backgrounds, although the Caucasians of Anabaptist heritage definitely predominate.  While I can't claim to speak for others, I can speak for myself as a member of the majority when I say that all are equally welcome in the family. I think if no variety were present, we'd feel a little cheated for being so bland.

Both inside and outside of our family, I've noted that most of the people around us tend to cut Hiromi a lot more slack than they do for me.  In other words, he gets by with many more social faux pas and many more idiosyncrasies than I would.  In turn, I am probably the easily-excused one when I am the only Amish Mennonite in the crowd.  We all usually get a lot more generosity than we deserve.

I've always thought that for American Caucasians to deny that they benefit because they have white skin is disingenuous, at best.  While I can imagine circumstances and places where this is not the case, I believe that the vast majority of white Americans benefit by being Caucasian.  When white people deny their privileged status, I suspect that one or more of the following applies:

1.  They feel that their achievements and advancements have been won fair and square by their own diligence and effort--not because they enjoy an unfair advantage. 

2. They feel that they are not racist, and thus do not deserve the suspicion implied in the white privilege label.

3.  They feel that they have made wholesome efforts to be generous, affirming and inclusive, and this is not being recognized.

4.  They have felt the sting of reverse discrimination.  In other words, they feel disadvantaged in situations where racial diversity is prioritized over competence.

Rather than protesting the "white privilege"  label, or trying hard to prove its misapplication,  I believe the one thing that all American Caucasians must do is cultivate gratitude for every good thing that comes their way, without getting hung up on the route by which these good things arrive.  This includes being thankful for being able to run their "races" in lanes without the hurdles that have been erected in other lanes.

Meanwhile, it's a great idea to go on working hard to accomplish something worthwhile, and to be generous, affirming, and inclusive of all others. 

To  my knowledge, certain levels of melanin concentration in the skin have never been positively correlated with strength of character.  Whether privileged or not, having a lot or a little malanin--gratitude for the good that is present universally elevates one's character.  This is always worth pursuing and celebrating.