I met Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. by phone and later in person in New Orleans at the NCORE annual conference. Dr. Moore has been running his N-Word Certificate program for those who want to know what to do with this word that has become liberally sprinkled across mass media (lyrics, movies, social). A few weeks ago, he posted a link to Beyond Diversity, a blog that has recently been the victim of haters and I went to the site and ended up buying a few wrist bands – one of which I brought to my friend in San Francisco who has generously opened her house to me while I attend a seminar with Lee Mun Wah.
Yesterday, I rode with my friend to pick up her son from camp and we were both wearing our wrist bands. My friend moved to San Francisco after visiting me here – we had met in New Orleans in the 90s. She stayed in San Francisco, while I went back home because I was always unsettled here. One of the things that always annoyed me about this city was the absence of African Americans – oh yes, there are plenty of African Americans in Oakland, but in San Francisco, hardly any at all.
The other thing that annoyed me about San Francisco was this constant feeling I was on the outside looking in, particularly after the dot-com explosion boosted housing prices through the roof in the mid 90s. There is an argument that a lot of white people use when confronted with the notion of white privilege that they were born poor, suffered injustices and discrimination because of it, and so therefore they had no privilege. So I was thinking about all this while staying at my friend’s lovely Russian Hill home, marveling at how she has continued to live and thrive here.
Meanwhile, my friend’s 12-year-old son looked at us both in the front seat and asked what the wrist band was all about and my friend asked me to explain. I told him our country was built by white colonists that used free labor to amass its wealth – indentured servants, slaves – and we were among one of very few countries that actually wrote into our laws and institutional contracts that it is okay to hold power over another human being, which is racist. And even while we have come a ways since the days of slavery and subsequent Jim Crow period, and the Civil Rights Act was a large attempt to undo this, the fact remains racism is embedded in our fabric and we as white people, enjoy the privileges of being white, so we need to stand in solidarity with people of color so everyone can live and thrive together.
“Do you understand? Just like Donovan gets in trouble all the time for doing things that you also do and perhaps it is because he is Black and so you need to stand with him and support him because that is not fair,” his mother asked him after I had finished. “Yes,” he said. “I understand.”
I can trace my ancestors back over many centuries — that’s one of the privileges that comes from a family tree which has been mostly uninterrupted by war, genocide (except for some of my Jewish family members in WWII) or forced slavery. That’s something to be thankful for, but not proud of.
It’s not something to be proud of when you’re less likely to be pulled over by the cops just because of the color of your skin, and more likely to receive a shorter prison sentence for similar crimes. It’s not something to be proud of when you’re 4 times less likely to be arrested for marijuana possession just because you have a lower melanin count than somebody else. It’s not something to be proud of, and it’s certainly not something I’m comfortable with. Especially in the year 2013.
I was again taken aback at a comment my friend received that said “I read it. Not impressed but has a few valid points.” SMH.
If a 12-year-old could understand his own white privilege, surely an adult would. But then again, that is why I’m at this training with Lee Mun Wah, because he has already begun to help me learn how to listen and acknowledge where others are with their understanding of racism in this country and their privilege being white, and how to be effective in using my own privilege to stand in solidarity with people of color but also to use the tools I have – writing – to work towards an end that I might not even see in my lifetime, but I hope and pray will exist for my son’s future.