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Want to End White Privilege? We Need All Hands on Deck

******As previously published at Medium.com, July 30, 2020*****

Ok. I have to admit I live in a bubble. In the midst of the double-pronged reckoning facing the U.S. in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resurgent fight for racial justice, my area is generally not seeing meltdowns over mask mandates or federal officers storming our neighborhood to quell protests (except for the notorious showdown in DC’s Lafayette Square near the White House). By and large, everyone here is taking the coronavirus seriously and they recognize that the police brutality and oppression suffered disproportionately by the Black community have got to stop. As white people wrestle with what to do next, what to read next, and who to talk to about it next, some people are slowly getting around to the self-examination that has to take place. Still, others continue wading in the pool of white privilege, only occasionally venturing over to the wall and peering over to see what’s happening in the real world; lobbing uninformed opinions and loathsome queries over the side like wayward pool toys.

My most recent experience in this vain: This morning, I went to the dentist with my two college-age sons. They’re still on our insurance plan, so I was just there to pick up the tab. So, I present my card (a ‘Preferred’ card of a certain color) to pay for both treatments. The white assistant takes my card and turns it over a couple of times in her hand saying, “Oh, what kind of card is this? I’ve never seen a card like this. I bank with XYZ bank [same bank] and my debit card is red…..” Taken aback by her determined intrusion, I simply respond, “It’s not a debit card.” The payment is processed and the transaction is complete and she proceeds to hand the card back to me. But STILL…”I’ve just never seen this color card before, my credit card is red (blah, blah, blah)…what kind of card is it?” Finally, I say “The card I have reflects my longstanding relationship and the level of service my family can expect at this bank.”

Before you tell me this was all innocence and curiosity, let me tell why I’m not having it:

  • At 50+ years old, I’m not ‘elderly’, but clearly this young lady’s elder. Where I come from, you don’t address your elders, or people you don’t know, this way. Further, it smacks of the condescension shown toward Black adults in decades gone by when younger white adults, or even children, addressed them by their first names despite having no personal or companionable connection to them.
  • The questioning of my credentials was unfounded. The name on the credit card was the same one listed as payer/guardian on the accounts and my sons’ dentist obviously raised no concerns about treating them. More importantly, the card proved to be valid and the transaction was processed successfully.
  • I am (or was) a longstanding client of that dental practice — 18 years. The thickness of my sons’ files certainly would have suggested this as she settled their accounts. There was no doubt about who I was.

I appreciate the awakening that is taking place among many white and other non-Black people around the unwarranted use of force, detainment, and other injustices inflicted upon Blacks in this country. Upon seeing media reports on these incidents, complete with smartphone footage, you are quick to finger those perpetrating these actions as ‘racist’. Harder for you to recognize are these offenses that we have to contend with to execute the most basic of functions in the course of a day. Instead, you want to make grand gestures like posting the stacks of books on race you’re reading, sporting Black Lives Matter t-shirts or kente cloth, and maybe even denouncing your ancestors’ actions from ‘so long ago’. In the past, we’ve seen you latch on to our culture, drape yourselves in our styles, and speak our vernacular, only to shed it all when you’re in a space where it won’t serve you, so pardon us if we are wary. We want to see you acknowledge and examine the baseless judgments you make about us every day, or their implications, as you question our rights to even be, let alone function, in spaces where you readily assume your white brothers and sisters just ‘belong’.

Even as our Black ancestors collectively fought for justice and equality, away from the battle lines, many had to exercise a little finesse about dealing with what we now define as microaggressions. They had to pick and choose when they were going to speak up vs. keeping their eyes on the larger goal, be it keeping their jobs, their homes, or their lives, but I can promise you, today’s youth and young adults don’t have that kind of patience. They want to change. Who can blame them? This foolishness, day in and day out, is exhausting. These experiences aren’t merely discouraging and disrespectful, or simply paying “the black tax”. Young folks are calling it what it is — an affront to our humanity.

And our humanity is at the heart of everything we’re asking for at this point. See us as humans that breathe, need love and care, deserve respect, have potential, and have aspirations just like you and your family. If you could just let go of the strongholds you have in these areas and trust that your egos can handle that neither your group nor any other group in the human race is inherently superior, we could all get to a better place, faster. Here’s just some of what we wish for:

  • Parents: Enlighten your children that they, and your family, are not the standard by which the rest of us are measured. Expose them to people who are ‘obviously’ different from them, AND remind them that there are differences among white people, within their families and beyond. Above all, acknowledge (don’t ignore) differences, but emphasize that diversity does not imply deficiency. Don’t fail to point out that they share similarities with people who don’t look like them as well. Consume media that reflects the diversity of our population. In age-appropriate ways, have honest discussions about our country’s history and the practices and systems that developed as a result.

. Law enforcement: Don’t assume we’re dangerous just because we’re Black. Give us the same benefit of the doubt when you’re called to the scene as you would non-Black persons of interest. Give us the same opportunity to explain our actions and even ask you why we’re being detained. If we are found to be in the wrong, follow the same procedure that somehow allows white gunmen who shoot up schools, churches, and movie theaters to survive long enough to make it to the police station, get booked, and secure representation.

  • Employment. Assume we are capable. Especially, when we have the same diplomas, certifications, and experiences (or more of all of that) as the perfect white candidate you’re so sure you’ll find if you just keep searching.
  • Education. Assume Black children are capable. Assume Black parents care about their children’s education. If a child needs assistance or support, work with the parents and educators to provide it. Just don’t decide their future based on this moment of need. Provide guidance to correct behavior as needed, but don’t over-discipline or ‘adultify’ Black children. Give them the same space to make ‘youthful’ mistakes, and learn from them, as their non-Black peers. School is not the safe place it should be for many of our children as research shows here.
  • Community: This includes neighbors, business owners, and other faces in public spaces. Assume we belong. Assume we’re decent people, operating in good faith until we’ve unequivocally shown you otherwise. Learn about people who don’t look like you, but don’t invade our physical or emotional space with confrontations or intrusive questions just because you need to feel more comfortable.
  • Healthcare: Be open to the fact that we actually experience pain. Uphold the oath of your profession and administer care like our lives matter. Because they do. Somewhere, someone loves us and wants us to live; the same way your tribe feels about you.

Understand that I am neither rejecting nor negating the support that you’re showing as you to try to grasp of our country’s true history or marching with us to show your sincere support of the cause. We need allyship. But along with that, we need a sincere change in mindset and heart-set. You have to genuinely understand and feel that we are not here to serve you, elevate you, fascinate you, or entertain you. We’re just trying to LIVE. Just like you. If you really seek this understanding, get out of the pool, and dry off. This is going to take a minute.

 

A Conversation on Race

Amid the uproar felt across the nation following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I sat down with Karen Fleshman of Racy Conversations.  The discussion spanned our nation’s painful history, persistent yet unaddressed injustices toward Black Americans, and what needs to be done to heal the unleashed anguish and outrage we see today.  (Original air date:  Friday, June 12, 2020)

Guest:  Karen Fleshman, Attorney, Racial Equity Strategist, Speaker, and Author/http://www.racyconversations.com