Submitted by Analisa Lee
Lately I have been reading more about White Privilege and thinking about this in my own life as well as in our island community. In particular, I have been deeply touched by reading Tanahitsi Coates’ excellent new book, “Between the World and Me,” which is written as a letter to his 15-year-old son about what it’s like to be a black man in America, as well as “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy Macintosh, which includes a list of fifty things that white people don’t have to think or worry about because of the unearned privilege based on the color of our white skin.
What is crystalizing for me is how we white people have a responsibility to address White Privilege and the ways in which we participate in maintaining the cultural and institutional systems that enforce racial stratification and oppression. Perhaps the most entrenched and important aspects we can initially address are the ways in which we don’t even recognize our own White Privilege.
This is not easy. It means facing some ugly facts. It means letting go of our rosy idea of personal meritocracy that we enshroud ourselves in (meritocracy is the idea that we have earned what we have, and done it in a democratic way). It means dismantling our world view in which “white” is the neutral, common, normal, standardized and desirable way for a human to be. In order to face our own inner White Privilege, we have to face that our privilege comes at a daily cost of oppressing others.
These are not comfortable things to look at, and this personal work is also made quite avoidable because nobody is making us examine these things in ourselves. That’s part of White Privilege; we have the privilege of choosing whether we want to think much about race at all. People of color have to think about race in countless instances where white people take for granted that our race has no negative effect for us.
I grew up in a very large, racially diverse city in the Midwest and lately I’ve realized that ever since I’ve been living on Orcas (almost 20 years now), it has become even easier for me to be lazy about confronting my own prejudice and racism that has lodged into my automated perspective. Being a white person living on an island of mostly white people can make it easy to deny that racism is embedded in almost every sector and structure of life in our country.
So this is the challenge I would like to offer myself and other white people living in our community: let’s not be lazy. Let’s become more conscious of and take responsibility for the ways that we are maintaining the status quo of racial disparity and oppression, and work to change these things. This is work only we can do; nobody can transform racism thoroughly except for white people. Only we can hold each other accountable to this work.