That white privilege thing

Usually when Dr. Phil comes on, I leave the room. Seeing people yell at each other is not therapeutic for me. Yesterday, my wife said you need to see this one as it was an interesting group discussion on race relations and white privilege.

In one powerful, illustrating exercise, young adults of both genders and several races, religions, sexual preferences, and countries of origin stepped forward or backward based on answers to a series of questions. At the end of about thirty or so questions, white people tended to be at the front of the room, while other races tended to be at the back.

As a now 60 year-old white man, I can pretty much go anywhere I want without repercussions. And, I need not have to worry for my life when I am stopped by the police or state patrol. A black man in his Sunday best has to move very slowly and visibly when stopped, thinking if he does not it may be the last thing he does on earth.

The show’s panel was a mixture of various races and invited audience guests offered their input. Listening to each other is a key takeaway. Understanding more about micro aggressions is also important (unintended slights). A white police officer said we should not use our badge as a threat, but as a heart to reach out to others.

A few white audience members felt they are victims and ostracized for being white. One woman lost her job for doing her job, as a video went viral with commentary that here was another white woman judging others. One woman grew up in a blue collar neighborhood and she felt disenfranchised as the blacks got more opportunities.

Perspective and context mean everything. A good example is captured in the movie about Jackie Robinson called “42.” Pee Wee Reese, the white shortstop for the Dodgers, went to see the owner Branch Rickey when he received a death threat for playing with a black ballplayer. Rickey said you got one threat and then proceeded to pull out gobs and gobs of death threats toward Robinson to illustrate his point.

Is there unfair back lash on some whites, absolutely?  But, people of a different color, religion, sexual preference, etc. have received gobs and gobs of discrimination over the years. And, lately under the divisive leadership of a certain US President, white supremacists, bigots and racists feel more empowered. Their hatred has become more normalized – and that is not good.

I often cite the lines written by Oscar Hammerstein about bigotry in the movie “South Pacific.” “You have to be carefully taught, by the time your are seven or eight. You have to be carefully taught to hate the people your parents hate.” We are not born bigoted, it has to be taught. By listening to each other, maybe we can teach the opposite. It should be noted a black man, who has convinced over 200 KKK members to give up their robes, did so by listening and asking questions. He heard them, which allowed him to be heard.

We are a potpourri of different people, but inside we are all the same. Let’s relish in our differences, but know we have the same foundation.

32 thoughts on “That white privilege thing

  1. That development is indeed scary and dangerous. All that was already solved and integrated gets questioned and disturbed. I love your last paragraph. The potpourri we all make may show the differences but they are what unites us again to make us one.

    • Quite true, Hugh. This is a key reason why GOP state legislatures are pushing to whitewash history, a particular apt term. Diminishing the textbook coverage of maltreatment of Black and Native Americans, coupled with the elimination of books like “Huck Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is done with intent. This is part of the long term strategy by folks like the Koch Brothers to address the diminishing majority of whites in America per a former Republican strategist. Keith

  2. I read an article this evening about a judge who passed sentence on a young girl in, I believe it was Mississippi. A group of teens had gotten drunk and killed a black man for no reason other than the colour of his skin. When the judge talked to the girl, she said her mother had always used racially charged language and that was where she learned her racism. During the trial, the judge put the mother on the stand and asked her a few questions … it soon became obvious where the girl had gotten her bigotry. Somehow, somewhere,we must break this vicious circle.

  3. I have been in the room at events where the step forward/step backward exercise has been used, and it’s powerful. The participants see others are affected by the same “step backs” they’ve experienced, like single-parent families, poverty and less formal education, but people of colour have even more factors that society discriminates against. A good way to begin talk about intersectionality.

  4. Note to Readers: I have been reading more bits and pieces about the whitewashing of US history that is being orchestrated in several local education systems. I also saw a huge percent of Republican voters who feel whites are the most discriminated group. That is telling about what disinformation can wreak. Using the example of the white woman from the Dr. Phil show who felt that blacks get all the breaks, here is a statistic that still stuns people but should not.

    Most Americans on welfare programs are white. Yes, the percentage of blacks on welfare programs is higher than that of white, but a plurality of the recipients are white. From my work with homeless families, here are three more statistics that bear mentioning. The fastest growing population of homeless people in America are single mothers. Also, the people on welfare programs have a lesser degree of drug use than folks that are not. Part of this is an affordability issue. The percentage of people incarcerated for drug use are more often black, due primarily to access to good legal counsel.

  5. I’ve been loading pages/reading off line for months.. when at home there are times I wish to be online so I can reply after reading — and some of your posts have touched me greatly in that manner.. I am soooo sorry about the loss of your loved one, and through later posts it’s obvious that it’s had a great effect on you.. sobering, yet one that through your own stories you’re able to coax all of us to embrace today what we might not have tomorrow.

    As for this post, I would have loved to have watched /and listened to the questions.. noticed the feedback/emotions as various people stepped forward/back…

    When I made a fast trip to the USA, I asked many loved ones and even strangers about the ‘take the knee.’ answers were surprising – some blacks said they didn’t like it.. others were behind the gesture and explained why.. some stories were so personal that it seems wrong to share with the world, but they are sobering andd make me ashamed of our history. for people like that, who still suffer when wounds are re-opened, they for sure deserve to find ways to end racism…

    Thanks for all that you do, and slowly may you all adjust to your loved one’s absence.

    • Lisa, many thanks for your well wishes. The take a knee issue became a wedge issue to divide by the divisive US President. People need to get beyond his divisiveness and ask questions of folks. Thanks again, Keith

  6. Great post, Keith. I also run the other way in the presence of Dr Phil. But this program sounds like a truly worthy study in reality and empathy. Thanks for sharing your reflections.

  7. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Our good friend Keith wrote this post nearly three weeks ago. I intended to re-blog it at the time, and as seems to happen more and more with me these days, I got side-tracked and it fell by the wayside. No matter, for his words are timeless … they were as true 100 years ago as they are today, and I suspect will still need to be heard in another century. Thank you, Keith, for this post, for reminding me of it, and for your generous permission to share.

  8. While there are some whites who get what racism costs humanity, most have no idea, and yet they call themselves victims. And yes they are victims, because their forefathers and foremothers caused them to be hated, by hating. Would knowing that have changed anything in the past? I doubt it. The fastest way to change things would be to take all privileges, visible or invisible, away from everyone, and see who knows how to cope.Those of colour would be far ahead in no time. Whites, well, maybe they would be forced into understanding. Not that I am advocating such a cultural shift, but reality can be a swift teacher.

    • Many thanks. I was just conversing with someone that people that look like me impart their own circumstances and do have a hard time walking in the shoes of African-Americans. As a result, simplistic solutions are offered that may not be a solutions at all, just a symptom.

      Here is one. I have heard whites say that the problem in the black community is too many out of wedlock children or father-less families. That is a result, not a solution. How do we get there? How about better sex education and access to birth control? How about more male mentors and after school programs? How about apprenticeships and job training? How about temporary subsidized rents based on the ability to pay? How about investing in infrastructure and markets – stores, restaurants, etc. in an impoverished area? Keith

      • How about asking them, the people living in the ghettoes, what they believe they need. Black solutions to black problems.
        Have you read “Black Consciousness in South Africa.” It is an amazing read. Very worth your time, Keith. I highly recommend it. It opened my eyes.

      • Rawgod, you are dead on accurate. There is a similar book called “Toxic Charity,” which is along those same lines. Keith

      • Those are all great ideas and suggestions, Keith, and were almost politically acceptable back in the 60’s and 70’s – then the right-wingers started in with “socialism” and “communism” and Reagan put an end to those ideas. Now the poor have to make do with his “trickle down” theory of the crumbs from the rich man’s table being quite sufficient for the poor to live on. To dare ask for more, esp. from the government, remains the #1 scare tactic of the corporate elites: socialism. Can’t have that now, can we. How many people realize that the largest, in-your-face aspect of “socialism” is the military swallowing up half the government’s income? Kind of a lop-sided form of charity, don’t you think?

      • Sha’Tara, you won’t find an argument here. The greatest charity cases can be wrapped up in a bow and called corporate welfare. The only price to pay is lobbying and campaign funding, but these are not altruistic donations. They yield a huge ROI to the donors. Keith

  9. Note to Readers: When I think of how far we have come and the ways we have to still go, I am reminded of two things – Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which highlight the worst of Jim Crow. There is a book of a couple of years ago called “The New Jim Crow,” which speaks to the high relative incarceration rates of Blacks for similar crimes to Whites. The difference – better and not overwhelmed legal representation. So, it is better for Blacks, but we are seeing a renewed discrimination on top of what had never fully gone away.

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