Sometimes I find myself in the middle of a white lie, uttering diplomatic words out of politeness, speaking well-intentioned untruths.
I know I’m not alone.
And much to my own regret and dismay I, a cisgender white woman, sometimes find myself lying to myself and others about what it means to be white in this country, and all the privileges that comes with the color of my skin.
I have so much work to do to become more awake (or woke) to the ways privilege gets manifested and perpetuated in my everyday life. Hopefully my desire to wake up does not turn into yet another well-intentioned untruth.
I know I’m not alone at Rainbow in this regard. I’ve had many conversations recently with people desiring to wake up to racial privilege and injustice. The most memorable conversation recently was with a mom of a bi-racial child. As we sat in our church nursery talking about her fears and hopes as a mother, her daughter scurried around the room playing with toys and dolls. All of a sudden it dawned on us that all the dolls in the church nursery were white-skinned, and most if not all of the stories featured white children and adults.
Waking up is sometimes hard to do.
People of color have told me that one of the most helpful things white people can do right now is to wake up to whiteness, understanding the privileges and sense of superiority, entitlement, and control that often comes with white skin. Whether or not an individual white person is guilty of acting superior or entitled is not the point. The point is that collectively, white people in America have privilege upon privilege upon privilege, and the worse part is that we are often collectively blind to it. And this I believe has to change if we truly desire a more peaceful and just future in this country for all skin colors.
During the Roots of Justice anti-racism analysis training I attended earlier this year, the trainers talked about the iceberg of racism. Too often, they said, white people focus only on the tip of the iceberg, and fail to see the bigger realities. For more, watch this 2 minute video from Mennonite training organization Roots of Justice.
Those who attended this Roots of Justice training were invited into small groups in order to share first memories of meeting someone or having a relationship with someone of a different skin color. No white lies, they said. This isn’t a time for polished, white-washed memories. This is a time for painful truth-telling.
I traveled back in time and thought of a junior high boy I had a crush on. He was black, the only black student in my class, and I wanted to be his girlfriend. Growing up in my small, rural, predominately white town, I didn’t have perspective on whether this was ok. I remember my grandpa coming to one of our track meets and saying, “I love to watch that boy run. It’s perfection.” Yes, I thought, but would my grandpa also like to see him holding hands with his granddaughter? Maybe, maybe not.
I recently invited a small group at Rainbow to converse about similar things: How did your families/guardians talk about race growing up? What are your memories (positive or negative) about encountering someone with different skin color? What were your lasting impressions (positive or negative)? And describe a recent encounter with someone of a different race that made you uncomfortable.
This kind of personal storytelling and sharing might not be for everyone and it certainly isn’t enough, only skimming the tip of the iceberg, if even that much. But it’s something, and so many black and brown lives depend on all of us doing something.
In closing I’ll share two reading list links that I intend to spend time with in the coming weeks and months. Please join me.
A Reading List for America by Maira Liriano, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division