“People can be slave ships in shoes.”
-Zora Neale Hurston, Author
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
-George Santayana (1863) philosopher/novelist
“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
-Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet
My Dear Readers,
In Northern Ireland in the late 20th century, an ethno-nationalist and religious conflict that developed into a low-level war between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland became commonly known as “The Troubles.”
In America, we are waging a low-level war against children of color seeking protection from debilitating gang violence in Central America. Since early May of this year, over 2,000 children have been separated from their parents after crossing the southern border into the U.S. seeking asylum, as part of a policy from the Trump administration that has generated a public outcry. In all, over 10,000 unaccompanied immigrant children are being held in detention facilities across the United States. Currently, the US Department of Defense is planning to house 20,000 children on military bases across the country.
My heart is heavy. This is who we have become. “The Troubles“ of the British are now our own.
The Cries of Children
The world is watching as our country continues to spiral into state sanctioned child abuse and cruelty to children, and this was not an accident. This was part of a new immigration strategy by the Trump administration that was designed to deter further illegal immigration, but this approach has prompted widespread outcry.
No racial group understands the impact of complex trauma in children and the separation of families more than African-Americans. African-American families continue to feel the impact of historical and inter-generational traumas associated with slavery, segregation, the Jim Crow era, and the horrors of lynching men, women and children.
Even today, complex trauma continues to be endured in silence by those who as children, individually integrated white schools following the US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Since then, legislation has been passed and judicial battles have been won, but these children and subsequent generations continue to be psychologically impacted and their social mobility blocked.
How are the words “Land of the Free” defined? Immigrants coming to this country understand that in the United States of America we claim to be the land of the free because men are free to do whatever they wish. However what is really meant is that white men are free, not others.
Although segregation has formally ended as a means of control, it has been replaced by the subtler white privilege.
What is white privilege?
White privilege is a societal benefit that favors people whom society identifies as white. White privilege confers passive advantages that white people may not recognize they have, which makes it different from and harder to address than overt bias or prejudice.
How does privilege differ from segregation?
White privilege is voluntary and reinforced by societal norms and beliefs, where in comparison, segregation was reinforced by local and state laws. Once a person becomes aware of their own white privilege, they have the opportunity to change how it shows up in their lives and their interactions with others.
How does the utilization of privilege benefit the individual?
White privilege includes cultural affirmations by the greater society of one’s individual worth at the expense of other cultures, presumed greater social status, and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely without intimidation. There is no tangible benefit; only an ease of going about their lives that people without privilege do not experience.
How are non-whites harmed by the denial of privilege or the utilization of privilege?
The negative psychological and emotional effects of white privilege on people of color can be seen in professional, educational, and personal contexts. Because white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, the experiences of others who do not operate in the same way can result in marking those people as “other,” “different,” or “less than” while perceiving oneself as “normal” or “superior.”
White Privilege: The New Normal
It is unlikely that white people of good conscience would disagree that slavery, the Jim Crow/segregation era, and lynching were evil. Yet, these evil acts repeatedly occurred because white people of good conscience chose not to intervene and remained silent instead.
Today, the new normal of white privilege is an outcome not only of the lack of action and silence, but also the “power of choice” in which white people of good conscience will focus their attention (i.e. moral outrage, political organization and financial resources) elsewhere. Without the sunlight of attention, micro- and macro-aggressions that did not receive attention before will continue to emotionally drain and psychologically impact communities of color across the country.
This may be the “new normal,” but it serves only to pit communities of color against each other in times of desperation and trauma to compete for the attention of those white people of good conscience. Broad media coverage is given to Hispanic infants and children being separated from their parents at the border while limited media coverage is given to the East Pittsburgh police shooting death of a unarmed African-American adolescent. Meanwhile, media coverage and empathy has all but evaporated in North Dakota where Native and Aboriginal people continue to fight for their land and water rights.
In white privilege’s New Normal, communities of color fear the loss of hope, abandonment and the return to suffering in silence.
Using the Power of Choice
White privilege is not a derogatory term or an epithet. It’s simply a term for the things that white people don’t have to worry about as they go through life that people of color, particularly black people, do, because of the racial prejudices that are common in our society.
White people of good conscience have consistently bombarded communities of color with questions that have the following common thread:
- What can we do to resolve the problems of injustice, inequality and racism?
- How can we help?
- How can we work together?
Despite their good intentions, communities of color continue to be psychologically impacted by problems of injustice, inequality and racism. So, the question remains… what can white people of good conscience do?
- They can take a stand within their own communities.
- They can STOP seeking out communities of color for answers. You already have the answers. Do something!
- They can utilize and apply the clinical concept of RACE (responsibility, accountability, consequences and empowerment) in working within their respective communities.
Responsibility: End your silence. Injustice, inequality, and racism all thrive because the unaffected majority places their interests above all others. This inaction reinforces the foundations of inequality and racism. Simply put: when you see injustice, inequality, and racism, speak out. I am responsible. I will respond.
Accountability: Understand that you are accountable. Accept that having privilege means that you gain when someone else suffers. Accept the personal accountability that comes along with those gains. I will be accountable.
Consequences: Understand the impact of your action and inaction. Be willing to balance your intent with the outcome of a particular act. I accept the consequences of my action or inaction.
Empowerment: Transform your community. Acknowledge that you possess the tools and resources to transform your community. Stop wanting more and then settling for less. I will work towards transforming my community.
Concluding Words-Dr. Kane
A white ally who I consider to be a brother recently half-jokingly and half seriously remarked in one of his pieces:
“I am starting to grow bored with the “Ally” role. I want to explore the possibility of becoming something of a Co-Conspirator.”
Those holding the privilege can best help end inequality, injustice, and racism by working within their communities as we continue to work within ours. Otherwise, the words amount to little more than intellectualizing the suffering of others.
I also want to assume my own responsibility by balancing my intent with the outcome of my actions. I have often been criticized for generalizing my language. I have been informed that in saying “all white people do ____,” the outcome is that some white people will feel uncomfortable. They would prefer that I use language such as “some” or perhaps, “more than not,” instead.
I can understand the discomfort with the generalization. This is a great opportunity to see where white privilege becomes an issue. These white people are asking to be viewed as individuals, and not as a group– but that is the heart of white privilege. As a black man, I do not have the ability to be viewed as an individual. Everything that I say and do are seen as representations of my entire race and culture. Because white people have always had the privilege of being judged by their individual merits, they miss that privilege when it is no longer extended to them, and feel that it is their right to be seen that way. The key here is for white people to demolish that status as “privileged” by fighting to see that all people are able to be judged on their individual merits and not based on generalizations based on what race they appear to be.
In using the term “white people of good conscience,” I seek to address two concerns:
- I am asking white people to take the opportunity to look within themselves, holding themselves accountable by asking themselves: am I engaging in micro- or macro- aggressive behavior?
- I am fearful that only speaking of “some” white people will result in no white people examining themselves and their own behavior, because they will count themselves as not part of the “some.” White privilege benefits all white people. Therefore, all white people must be aware of the role it plays in their lives.
As I seek to understand the differences, I reflect upon the following quote:
“Don’t try to understand them; and don’t try to make them understand you. For they are a breed apart and make no sense.”
-Chingachgook, Chief of the Mohican People
Last of The Mohicans, (1992)
The history of silence from well-meaning white people in the face of atrocity and trauma has left the African-American community with a lot of anger. There are many who feel that the white people of good conscience abandoned the civil rights movement after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, choosing to believe that their work of civil rights for the black community had been done.
Michael Harriot, writing for The Root, states that these well-meaning white people, due to their silence, are cowards. He utilizes strong quotes such as this one by Desmond Tutu:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
What has been the reaction of reaction from whites of good conscience? More silence. The words of Chingachgook ring loud and true. Yes, they are a breed apart and make no sense. However, we all live on the same planet. We breathe the same air. Therefore, we share the:
- Responsibility- to create understanding among each other.
- Accountability- to hold each other accountable to what we say and do.
- Consequences- to understand the impact of our actions and inaction.
- Empowerment- to work together to transform our respective communities
I choose to believe that white people of good conscience default to the same behavior or inaction as people residing in communities of color for the same reasons… they are living in fear. Both communities live in fear of each other. The fear is based on stereotypes, biases, guilt, shame, denial and a host of many more reasons not mentioned.
The question in our respective communities is this: what do we do with our fear? The answer is that fear is simply a feeling. Because it is your fear, then:
- Take ownership of your fear.
- Embrace your fear.
- Be willing to take action, walking with your fear.
The land of the free is in danger and put at risk by those who now lead our country. We stand at the crossroads. WE and not them must choose the direction.
“Choose your leaders with wisdom and foresight. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”
Until the next crossroads… The journey continues…