Walking in those other shoes

The old proverb that you don’t know what someone else is going through until you walk around in his or her shoes is routinely and historically pertinent. Yet, one of the challenges we face is we wear those shoes with our own biases and context. In other words, the socks we wear will give those shoes a different feel.

Too often, I read letters to the editor and posted comments or listen to conversation that bias the experience. It is something we must guard against. The same goes when we extrapolate personal or second-hand anecdotes to paint all circumstances with a broad-brush. In other words, the person believes every situation must be this way, as this is what I experienced on one occasion.

As a white man in his sixties, I have a context that is different from an African-American teen male. For the most part, I can go anywhere I want without repercussions. I can walk into a hotel or gathering and go unquestioned. When I am stopped by law enforcement, I am less worried that the next move I make may be my last. An African-American man dressed for church, does not have that same level of trust. And, an African-American teen is in even more in jeopardy if he acts rashly.

I also know I have that white privilege thing. The more common example of white privilege is not overt; it is people who look like me who do not know they benefit from it. It is not the blatant, in your face, white privilege seen on the news by white supremacists. It is the everyday lack of awareness.

It also can spill over into white victimization. This “I am being held down because African-Americans and other minority groups are getting more than a fair break” belief exists and is fed by more strident media and white supremacist groups. It is a way the latter groups recruit to their folds. I experienced this yesterday in a troubling conversation with an old friend. He painted too many woes with the broad brush of this white victimization. I kept thinking “really?”

There is a reason African-Americans and other minority groups feel threatened or feel their rights matter less or not at all. They have been disenfranchised for centuries, sometimes in violent or suppressive ways. We must do our best to guard against this happening, but it is still going on. . People of color are too often the victims of police shootings. It is debilitating and dispiriting. No one deserves to be treated like that.

On the flip side, we must acknowledge that some whites do feel victimized. Life has dealt them some tough hands or fewer opportunities. Yet, it is dwarfed by those who benefit from white privilege. In my opinion, a white person can feel both and not realize it. What concerns me is when these examples are used with a broad brush in an effort to paint over the benefits of white privilege.

With that said, we need to step back and look at why things happen without the lens of biased sources. There often are a multitude of factors that cause things to happen, but race clearly is one of those factors. Poverty is an American problem we must deal with better. Pretending it does not exist won’t make it go away. Limited and limiting opportunities in various communities are a factor. Crime and drug use can fill this void and send a community into a death spiral. Predatory lending or rental practices are an issue. Lack of educational advancement is an issue. Food deserts and hunger are issues. Family size is an issue as poverty is correlated with larger families.

These issues affect people of all colors. They impact urban as well as rural settings. Many may not realize that the largest numbers of American people in poverty are white. The propensity of poverty is higher for non-whites, but I want to make a point that poverty knows no racial boundaries. Fear is used to sell influence and recruit votes. Yet, most issues are complex and blaming other groups is not the answer. It also gets in the way of understanding challenges others may be going through and vice-versa.

I fully recognize my own anecdotes and context have flavored my opinions. In my view, we should acknowledge we have those biases and do our best to look beyond them as well. It will help as we walk around in those other shoes.

14 thoughts on “Walking in those other shoes

  1. “In my view, we should acknowledge we have those biases and do our best to look beyond them.”

    How on earth are we supposed to “look beyond them” when we are told – nay, ordered, or else… – that we must view the world through race? How are we to “look beyond them” when elementary schools teach children that whites ‘inherit’ responsibility for systemic racism? That older students should be housed not by ‘segregation’ of skin colour but ‘affinity’ housing! How are we to “look beyond them when publishers and print media agree to spell ‘whites’ with a lower case ‘w’ but ‘Blacks’ with the upper case ‘B’?

    I’m sorry Keith, but “looking beyond” our biases never has, does not, and probably never shall be accomplished when we go along with the idea that race has any social meaning outside of its biological designation as you have done here. There is excellent data that disparity over the past 50 years is neither explained by nor caused by race. Walk in the shoes of successful people if you want to give advice on how to “look beyond” the biases ALL of us have.

      • What I mean to point out, Keith, (and for your consideration) is that if we want to reduce racism, framing important social issues by race I do not think is not going to get the job done. But this opinion is empty unless evidence supports it. It doesn’t matter if I think it’s making racism worse, more prevalent, more powerful. And so I think many kind hearted, well meaning, good intentioned people like you are doing this unaware.

        I do not mean this point to be a personal criticism of you or anyone but a criticism of the assumption many of us are asked to make that today’s anti-racism/white privilege/BLM framing will lead to reducing racism. Is that assumption true?

        Well, I think there’s powerful evidence this simply is not true, and I mentioned three in my comment. So I do not think it’s our racial bias that is doing this promotion of race as a means to frame the world we live in but the use of a replacement ideology diametrically opposite to the one that emerged in from the civil rights movement. I think today’s replacement ideology is contrary to that ideology… an ideology that when acted upon has been reducing (but not yet eliminating) racism over time (again, lots of compelling evidence for this).

        So I think today’s anti-racism/white privilege/BLM movement has us doing EXACTLY what King asked us NOT to do: use skin color (presuming the ‘walk’ of BIPOC is, in fact, systemically different), which is an observation I make regarding what you are doing here in this post)… again, with what I think are the best of intentions.

        The purpose of my comment is to stimulate critical reflection. Is today’s anti-racist/white privilege/BLM support by viewing the world this way doing what it’s advertised or believed to be doing, that it is REDUCING race as a distinction between individuals?

        So here’s the issue for this comment:

        If we are making a mistake concluding today’s anti-racist ideological movement and supporting it is actually causing more, rather than addressing and reducing, racism effectively, then shouldn’t we want to know? I would. I presume you would. I presume your readers would. But if ANY criticism is automatically categorized as a personal attack and is therefore unwelcome, how on earth can this issue – and the mounting evidence for the perniciousness of today’s anti-racism/white-privilege/BLM-support – be addressed if true and, more importantly, corrected by people of kind hearts, well meaning, good intentions?

      • Tildeb, thanks for your follow-up. This comment is different from earlier ones as you too often tend to err on the side of personal attacks which hide the point you are trying to make.

        I would encourage you to write more like this, as when commenters attack people, I usually stop reading what they are saying regardless of the venue. You are obviously a smart person, so that detracts from your argument.

        As for this one, in my view, we need more people and leaders to lead by example, walking the talk, so to speak. I will do my darnedest to treat people how I want to be treated. If I see overt racism, I will either vote with my feet and leave or say something, if appropriate. I don’t know what that makes me, but that is what I feel I must do.

        Thanks for your thoughts and maybe reading my two cents, which will get you a cup of coffee with $2.25 more. Keith

  2. An excellent and insightful post, my friend. Your first paragraph … where you said “the socks we wear will give those shoes a different feel”, made me stop and think. There is much food for thought here … and I am as guilty as any of forgetting, or taking for granted, the ‘white privilege’ I have had throughout my life.

  3. Very well argued Keith. A sober warning built in there too. For unless a nation can unite as one community, at some stage it will fall into antagonistic groups using the lowest common denominators of violence and counter-violence.
    One factor the complainers who try and twist the facts forget is that their concerns are just one part of how they are seen by others. Thus if someone complains about ‘white victimisation’ they are instantly profiled as:
    1. Against Women’s rights.
    2. Against abortion.
    3. Hostile to gays and transgender.
    4. Climate change deniers.
    5. Religious fundamentalists.
    6. Gun lobby.
    7. Ignorant, racist, misogynist and dangerous.
    That disturbs a lot of groups, and disturbed groups worry the dynamics of large Commercial Outfits.
    And eventually they find they are getting into the minority they feared they would be and this will be their song:

  4. Roger, thanks for your comment and link to a song I had not heard. I agree we must unite around civil rights and civil discourse. In the middle of what you wrote, you mention staying away from profiling. Just because I disagree with someone on one or more things, does not define their whole belief construct. This leads to that narrow of view of tribalism, which is counterproductive and can lead to violence in extreme cases. A good example is John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club, had known strong views elevating the rights of Whites over Native Americans. It should not take away from what he did to preserve nature, but makes one recognize that there are no perfect people out there. Keith

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