I’ve spent the past week rereading the 47 essays I wrote in 2017 about racism and white privilege. I did so with the hope of better understanding my journey over the past twelve months. What had I learned about our society, about race and about myself? While I awoke to my racism and privilege seven years ago when I became the father to a black daughter, this year was the beginning of an intentional commitment to digging deeper, to serious self-examination, to cultural critique and to the sharing of this journey with my white friends and family. As a reread my essays chronologically, I had several insights into what has happened in me over these past months.
Prior to this year, I was sadly ignorant about racism – past and present – in the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” (On Martin’s Day) King was describing me. This past year, I have discovered people, facts, historic events and systemic oppressions of which I was previously oblivious. I learned that most white Americans are woefully uneducated and misinformed about racial relations – past and present – in the United States. (The Pretense of Ignorance)
During this past year, I learned about the 13th Amendment, (13th and the New Jim Crow) Katherine Johnson, (Hidden Messages) racial profiling, (Just The Facts) reparations, (A Reasonable Reparation) and the Reconstruction period (A Splendid Failure). I’ve read the writings of W.E.B Dubois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehesi Coates. (Between the World And Me) I’ve followed a half dozen blogs written by black men and women. I’ve gone through white ally training with Showing Up For Racial Justice. While I am hardly an expert, I am not as ignorant as I once was about racism and white privilege. Unfortunately, in discovering my ignorance, I’ve also encountered a deep resistance to such enlightenment in other white people.
Acknowledging my personal racism and white privilege is especially difficult in a culture where so many of my white peers are convinced they are not racist or privileged. This year began with a post acknowledging my racism (I Am Racist) and ended with a post reminding myself of how far I have to go. (I Am Not A Hero). In between, I tried repeatedly to remind myself (I Say Racist Things) and others (One Last Attempt At Explaining Racism To White People) about how insidious racism can be. Quite often, the response to my writings from white people has been indignation. How could I accuse them of being racist? (Habitually Racist)
The responses to my post “How To Determine If Someone is Racist With One Simple Question” convinced me more than ever that the single greatest obstacle to racial reconciliation in the United States is the resistance of white Americans to taking any personal responsibility for racism – past or present. The comment section to that post is worth reading in both its ugliness and arguments. This past year, I’ve had dozens of long exchanges and conversations with white people offended by my blanket statements about white people. (Are All White Americans Racist?) I’ve also become more and more convinced that white people are universally responsible the racial problem in the United States. None of us are immune. At a very minimum, we have a responsibility to move beyond racism as an abstraction.
Until the past few years, racism and white privilege were largely abstractions to me. As much as I’ve read, studied and listened, it is nearly impossible for me to truly understand racism. (I Don’t Understand Racism) Though my daughter has given me a window through which to see racism more clearly, it is a window on a moving train. One minute I see racism and privilege and then next minute I don’t. However, occasionally, if I am paying attention, I can vicariously experience what people of color experience nearly every day. (When I Knew) Occasionally, if I am willing to look, I can see my white privilege. (White Privilege and the Redwoods)
However, the most profound moment of this past year didn’t take place intentionally. It happened on a summer walk with my daughter. It occurred in a moment I would have completely missed if not for my growing awareness of my white privilege. In my post entitled “The Umbrella,” I share a glimpse of both the latent racism of our society and the power of my privilege. On that summer afternoon, the ugliness was no longer an abstraction. It was palpable and real, frightening in its malignancy. I am still reconciling myself to how differently my daughter and I experience the world.
Without being the father of a black daughter, I seriously doubt whether I would have taken the journey of this past year. No post made this more obvious to me than one entitled “Teaching Our Black Daughter About Our White Racism.” The response to this post was remarkable. Some of my white friends and family expressed deep concern about its conclusion – that my wife and I needed to be proactive in teaching our daughter about racism and – specifically – about our racist inclinations. I was told several times that I was doing psychological and emotional damage to my daughter.
The responses from the parents – white and black – of black children couldn’t have been more contrary. Many parents of black children wrote me to echo my fears and encourage my commitment. This post made me realize how easily white people confuse the situation in our culture. The biggest threat to my daughter’s psychological and emotional well-being is not having racially aware parents. The greatest obstacle to her success in life will be white people who pretend that racism is a rare and episodic event rather than a systemic problem. Before becoming Ella’s father, I was one of those white people.
I need to keep listening, experiencing, reflecting and writing. I still have a lot to learn. (Reminders for Recovering Racists) This is the primary objective of my blog – to share what I’ve learned from listening to people of color. (I Need To Listen) I have discovered that my life is better when it includes people of color. (I Need People of Color) What I have experienced in parenting a black daughter is broadly applicable. Life and society is more vibrant when it is inclusive and diverse.
I still have a lot to say. My interactions with other white people have exposed dozens of others issues that need to be addressed. The list of future themes continues to grow. I recognize my unique opportunity and responsibility to speak to other white people. I will persist, even though many white people will not listen. I do so because some white people will read and consider my words. They will listen to me precisely because I am white. I must use my privilege to confront issues that are often discounted when expressed by people of color. It is the least I can do.
If you have shared this journey with me in 2017, thank you. I know it hasn’t always been easy. Since I’ve often struggled with the writing, I’m certain many have found the reading challenging. If I have offended, it was never my intent. I have always been motivated by a one deep commitment – to create a world less offensive to my daughter and my grandchildren.