The reflections of a white man confronting his personal privilege and racism.
Throughout my life, I have responded to nearly every personal challenge or crisis by writing. The process of writing has allowed me to clarify issues, sort through responses and come to new conclusions about life and truth. My writing has been a means of self-reflection and examination. It has been therapy for me.
Sometimes I’ve done this in personal journals, especially when the reflection was intimate and painful. But, more often, I have written publically, sharing my personal struggles in sermons, books, essays and blogs. The popularity of my public writings has often surprised me. It has taught me that the loneliest paths are far more traveled than we would guess. In sharing my struggles, I’ve discovered fellow travelers. In reading my reflections, others have found solace.
This was true when I was trying to be a genuine disciple of Jesus, when I was working to reform Christianity, when I become a Universalist, when I gradually left religion behind and when I became a happy atheist. I wrote my way through each of these transitions, dropping my writings like bread crumbs for those who might follow behind. When I wrote my book on leaving religion, I wondered if my writing was over.
Six years ago, even as I left religion, I began another transition. It began on the day Jennifer Custer agreed to marry me and I suddenly found myself the father of a three year old black daughter named Ella. I remember thinking that parenting her would be easy. I had already parented five children to adulthood. She would benefit from an experienced father.
While I certainly hope that to be true, what I didn’t expect was how parenting a black daughter would so radically alter my life, how seeing the world through her eyes would give me glimpses into a parallel universe. Until Ella, it had not occurred to me that my experience of life, of society and of the world was both privileged and limited. Gradually, as I experienced racism vicariously, I became aware of my unconscious participation and promotion of white privilege and racial injustice. I woke.
Unfortunately, I woke to realize that the struggle for racial justice did not end with the Civil Rights movement, with the Voting Rights Act, with the initiation of Black History month, with a national holiday for Dr. King, or with the election of our first black president. I woke to realize that much of what I’d thought to be progress was window dressing, that racism was still deeply embedded in the American system and psyche. I woke to an America that elected Donald Trump, where once again the needs and desires of whites were being pitted against people of color.
So once again I find myself writing. This time I’m not writing sermons, books or essays. In this new blog, I’m writing notes to my white self, reminders of what I’m learning about myself, about race, about white privilege, and about justice and equality. If you are a person of color, I hope you’ll read these notes and correct my errors. If you are another white person, I hope you’ll walk with me, consider my struggle and decide if it should be your own.