Insights Into White Privilege From My Son-In-Law
My son-in-law and I have not had many conversations about race issues, but for two very different reasons. My reason is that I chose to believe that because I am not a racist myself there was no need to talk about it. His reason is because he has lived with racism against him and against his family his whole life, because he is black. This, in a nutshell, is what I am learning as I educate myself regarding my privilege as a white male.
Yesterday he and I were hanging out in our house while waiting for our wives to return home. I asked him if he was aware of and concerned about all of the blatantly racist things that are happening across this country since the election. I told him I was really struggling with it, and that I was really beginning to understand the term “white privilege”. He smiled and said, “Yeah, I’m aware of it, but it’s nothing new. I’ve lived with this my whole life.”
I was gutted.
He has told me that at least once before but I wrote it off to the fact that he has lived in the south his whole life, where racism still rears its ugly head sometimes. This time I heard him in a very different light.
This is why we cannot accept this change that is happening in our country. Because it is not really change at all. It is just a much more visible and vocal version of business as usual. Something has transpired that has empowered the bigotry that already existed to rise to the surface and be expressed in those that had, for whatever reason, been keeping it down within themselves.
To be clear, I am not blaming Trump. This is not an anti-Trump rant. Because, you see, racism was already alive and well before Trump was elected President. Most of us reasonable, loving, anti-racist white people just didn’t know it. Or at least weren’t affected by it enough to see it as anything more than something that was working its way out of our system. A dying, terrible history that we despise owning and therefore look forward to not talking about or seeing anymore someday soon. Hate crimes, from our point of view, didn’t happen all that often, and though we were appalled when they did, we discredited them as “fringe” lunatics who don’t really represent the overwhelming majority of the good that populates this country.
I don’t believe that anymore, and again, I am shattered.
Sure, there are probably quite a few protesters who are mad that their candidate lost, who need to move on to accepting that Trump will be our new President, and figure out how they are going to live with it. Sure, there are idiots who are taking their reaction to ridiculous extremes with violent and ignorant acts, and these people should be punished and stopped.
But there are many more people in this country right now who are scared. Not scared of Trump or his supporters. Scared of what has happened that has unleashed bigotry from mostly showing itself in the dark to now parading proudly in plain view. Scared for their safety, for their loved ones, for their families and children. And for people of color, people of foreign origin or ancestry, people who love or are married to someone of the same gender, women — for anyone who is not a straight white male, this fear is nothing new. It has been the background music, the soundtrack of their lives that they have learned to hum along with because they must. Only now that soundtrack has been turned up to a volume that is terrifying. The music is so loud that even some of us who have never heard it before are hearing it now. I am hearing it, and I’m finally listening.
So please stop saying, “Get over it.” Please stop acting like this will all blow over and things will settle down. Please try to stop being offended when someone points out your privilege and instead try to listen and learn and discuss and engage. If you are truly not a bigot, as I believe many of you are not, then please stand up for those who are scared, for those who have been living with racism and bigotry their whole lives. It has to stop, once and for all, and every one of us has a responsibility, a duty as a human being, to actively be a part of making that happen.
This post was originally published on my Facebook profile on 11/13/16. I am working on moving previous related posts from there to Medium in order to continue the journey here that I started sharing there.