Some stories feel impossibly difficult to write, let alone publish, but those are usually the ones people like the most. Those are the stories that get people talking, which is exactly what I’m trying to do — start a conversation.
So here goes.
As my followers already know, I write about social injustice. I know all about white privilege and systemic racism and the world that colonialism has created. I’m open to conversations with people who want to talk about the prejudice they’ve experienced. I’m proud to have raised my child in very mixed areas while teaching him it’s okay if people look different from us.
I’ve been told I’m “different” from other white people, but I’ve come to realize I’m still part of the problem. I was still raised in a biased world, and I’ve internalized some of that bias, no matter how much I don’t want to own it.
It’s time to own it, though. It’s time to get personal with you — really personal. Hopefully, you can find the courage to do the same.
I Make Assumptions About People Based on Their Skin Color
I’m thinking of one instance, in particular. A few years ago I moved into a new neighborhood and noticed a lot of noise and traffic down the road, and I assumed it was a Black family that lived down that way. It wasn’t until months later I realized the problem was the white family who lived right next door to them.
When I realized this, I felt ashamed, but then I felt liberated. When we can check ourselves on the bullshit in our own heads, then we have a chance to grow past it and be an example to other people of how we should treat our brothers and sisters. We give ourselves the opportunity to change.
I Gobble Up All the White Privilege I Can Get
I’ve never turned down a job offer or housing and said, “Give it to your next applicant who isn’t white.” No, I take the opportunity and congratulate myself on a job well done. I tell myself that I deserve whatever it is I’m getting. I don’t think about all the applicants with darker skin than mine who might be more qualified than I am. People simply like the way I look. I look “professional.” I look “safe.” I look white, and people like it.
That’s not to say I’m not qualified for the job I have now, but so is the next person in line. If that person isn’t white, though, her interviewer may not see her talent or capabilities. He may not be able to see past her dark skin and what her complexion means to him.
I Speak One Language
I haven’t made any serious attempts to learn Spanish, even though a large portion of my customers at work can’t understand English. Instead, I get frustrated when I can’t understand what people with accents are trying to tell me, and I probably make them feel even more alienated than they already feel.
You might ask, “Why don’t they learn English? We’re in America, after all.”
Personally, I think emigrating to a new country and learning to navigate a whole new culture is enough to handle. Immigrants already have enough on their plates without learning a new language. Eventually, they will learn English, but in the meantime, I can help cross bridges by learning a few Spanish words.
Sometimes I Laugh at Biased Jokes
Sometimes I laugh at biased jokes, even though I don’t think they’re funny. I laugh because it’s awkward for me, and sometimes I don’t want to be the one who has to give everyone a reality check. That’s my responsibility, though, and every time I dodge that responsibility — every time I let someone get away with their misconceptions unchallenged — I’m making the problem worse.
I Tend to Hang With Crowds Who Look Like Me
If I walked into a cafeteria of strangers and saw one table with a bunch of white people sitting at it, one surrounded by Hispanic people, and another full of Black people, chances are I’d sit with the people who look like me. Most of us would because we like the familiar. It’s comfortable for us.
If we aren’t sitting together, though, then there’s no conversation going on. People can’t call each other out on their bullshit. There’s no one to tell us how we’re wrong, how we’re part of the problem. We stagnate in the status quo, and 400 years later, that’s where we remain.
I Haven’t Donated Any Money to Civil Rights Organizations
I keep saying I’ll donate a portion of what I make from my writing to Black Lives Matter, but to be honest, I really haven’t made much from my writing yet.
What about the money I am bringing in? At this point in my life, I’m definitely not broke, but have I contributed anything to the people making a real difference in this world? No, I haven’t. I keep it all for myself and my own, another problem that’s gone unaddressed in the U.S. for almost half a millennium.
I Don’t Go to Protests
I don’t participate in protests. To be fair, I have legitimate reasons to not want to go: I don’t want to go to jail or get tear-gassed, I have to make it to work in the morning, I don’t want to contract coronavirus.
There are millions of people around me, though, who don’t want to go through the mistreatment they endure every day: housing and employment discrimination, police brutality and profiling, poor health care, etc. Once again, I have a choice to make, and once again, I choose me.
I Don’t Participate in Local Elections
I don’t participate in local elections, either, even though that’s where the real change happens. Local government is where laws and alliances are made. Officials in local government are friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues, people who have and share their own misconceptions, and it’s up to us to call them out. We do that by voting for the right people.
So What Now?
Now that I’m aware of the lies I tell myself, I can start to move past them. I don’t have to stay stuck in my prejudices and the alienation and injustice they uphold. Instead, I can help create a more loving, more just world for everyone.
To do that, we have to start talking. We have to sit with people who don’t look exactly like us, and as a white person, I have to let people call me out when my thinking is inaccurate. We all have to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them, but we need each other to do that.