The Difficult Discussion of White Privilege

Bring up the topic of white privilege and your going to very likely hear the room quickly go dead quite – especially if your in a room of white people.  Of if brought up and your in a certain type of crowd you may get a lot of impassioned opinions.  The passion this topic brings’s up in people can be very strong and very emotional.  There is also a real fear among certain people to even discuss it and a reluctance to even think about the idea.

When I decided to write this blog post, I wanted to examine the various view points you find on this topic.  As the husband of an Filipina woman and the father of four non-white children (3 adopted black kids and one asian/caucasian child) race is part of my daily reality.  My views on race and privilege have significantly chacircle-312343_960_720nged over the years.  I have no doubt in my mind my white family received a significant leg up in life when they came to America and were given one of the original 160 acre tracts of land in Colorado that was parceled out by the US Government.  That set in motion several generations of wealth building for my family.  We did not get “rich” off of that farm but it certainly helped to ensure a stable income and opportunity for several generations of our family which included getting college educations and continues even today since we sold the farm.  Those same opportunities were most definitely not available to non-whites for many generations.

Its important to understand the common perceptions on each side of the white privilege arguement:

  • Non-Whites
    • We have been starting from behind forever and expected to go just as far in life as white people
    • White’s will not acknowledge they have had for many generations extra privilege and leg up in life just by being white.
    • White’s aren’t serious about bridging the economic gap that clearly exists and they only play lip service to it.
    • Its hard running up hill all the time especially when all around you there is poverty and a sense of hopelessness.
  • Whites
    • Get over it – that was long ago – today you can do anything you want
    • We are all equal now – there isn’t any racism
    • It will never be enough – we all have to overcome challenges in life
    • Its bad behavior thats the issue, not some perceived white privilege

The reality is there is truth in both positions and each side clings to the truth in their ideas with out perceiving any of the truth and views of the other side.  And both groups are also wrong in some aspects as well – or at least they are exaggerating and misrepresenting some of the facts of their position.

Lets consider a few facts, thoughts and opinions on the topic that you will find in the media and with various thought leaders:

  • Editor Kevin Short at the Huffington Post lays out a series of facts that are hard to dispute – whites start well ahead of blacks and end up better off:
    • 16 percent of white children born into the poorest one-fifth of U.S. families will rise to become a member of the top one-fifth by the time they turn 40 years old – Blacks?  Only 3%…
    • Only 23 percent of poor white children will still be counted among the poorest Americans when they turn 40, while a whopping 51 percent of poor black children will
    • In short upward mobility for blacks is much harder – and they start out widely being further behind.
  • In The Atlantic’s article “The Case for Reparations” the author lays out a devastating case for how 200 years of slavery, ninety years of Jim Crow and 35 years of racist housing and voting policies have so significantly pushed blacks back from whites that there is no doubt the ability to “get ahead” is a much more daunting task in comparison to whites.  That isn’t to say I support reparations but the article pretty starkly lays out the impact of our American history and it’s hard to ignore.
  • Recently at Missouri University the perceived lack of compassion and understanding towards the university’s black students was able to get the President fired after a hunger strike and lot of protesting.  There wasn’t any significant overt racist activity – it was largely perceived through more subtle “micro-aggressions”.  Being able to wield this type of power Blacks could only dream of 20 or 30 years ago.  Their protests were taken seriously by the university power structure and action was taken.  On top of it all this was all led by Johnathan Butler the son of a wealthy black railroad executive.
  • A black man holds the most powerful position in the world – President of the United States.  He was voted in with a majority of his voters being white.
  • During the Ferguson situation Matt Chandler who is a leading reformist white evangelic preacher stirred up a bit of a controversy indicating his belief white privilege is real.  Read the blog post.  A noticeable shift has happened amongst white reformist evangelicals such as John Piper, Matt Chandler and others – its a true recognition that white’s have had an advantage.
  • The sound of your name does impact your opportunity… to the tune of white names receiving 50% more call backs.  Note this study was done over a decade ago and more than likely thing have improved.  (Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?  A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination)
  • The issue of only 1% of technical jobs being filled by blacks has become a hot topic in Silicon valley with a significant effort to change this problem.
  • A key view of many on why white privilege isn’t the primary issue for blacks is explained the illustrious Bill O’Reilly of Fox News in his Talking Points post.
    • Talking Points does not, does not believe in white privilege. However, there is no question that African-Americans have a much harder time succeeding in our society. Even whites do. But the primary reason is not skin color. It’s education and not only book learning. …..  That is the big lie that is keeping some African-Americans from reaching their full potential. Until personal responsibility and a cultural change takes place. Millions of African-Americans will struggle.  (I suggest reading the full post)

At some point common sense has to kick in for both sides. If one group of people are significantly poorer, have significantly less exposure to resources, a limited historical culture of success and less opportunities for upward mobility – they are lacking in privilege.   On the other hand that common sense has to also apply to the underprivileged.  Recognizing that the barriers are coming down and yes you may start behind as many do in life – black or white – but you have the real opportunity to make it.  Leaders need to speak out against destructive behaviors.  Today’s situation stands in stark contrast to a generation ago where it was nearly impossible to be an upwardly mobile black person.  Blacks were outright and blatantly held back.

One of the reasons I love America is we have been able to change.  The history of America is both beautiful and ugly.  The slaughter of the native indians as part of the immigrating white European’s belief in manifest destiny is truly one of the great atrocities in history.  America’s participation in the world wide slave trade was just as egregious along with the over 200 year suppression of blacks.

On the other hand we have changed.  Our constitution and ability for people to vote and peacefully change our country is an example and beacon of hope to the world.  The civil rights movement lead by Martin Luther King was able to shake the foundations of our country and awaken it out of our foolish conceptions of race.  Today we have men like Bill Gates spending billions to help the underprivileged around the world.  American money and resources is made available in many ways to many people.  We aren’t perfect but we have changed – we have advanced opportunity.

But the legacy of racism is there and its real – and the heart ache and frustration and suspicion between the races exists.  The Black Lives Matter movement only serves to point out the frustration and perception by many blacks even today.  Whites don’t understand why blacks just can’t take advantage of the new opportunities and move on to bigger and better things.  Blacks don’t understand why whites can’t see what a daunting task that is when the deck has been stacked against you for so long and your starting way behind.

I remember talking with an older black man a few years ago and he told me about growing up in the south as a child.  He told about the blatant discrimination he experienced.  I remember thinking to my self if that had happened to me I would be so angry – just angry angry angry.  I remember talking with someone who is now a famous Christian black rapper about how he grew up hating white people.  They echo the experiences laid out in this sermon by by Pastor Eric Mason’s  where he discusses a family member JoJo’s experiences:

He went to two wars and came back: Korean War and World War II. He came back with two Purple Hearts. When he got the two Purple Hearts, he got called nigger and threw them in the trash. What he’s done is he’s taken this arsenal of offenses against himself and he’s become angry. Instead of taking that anger to God, what he’s done is internalized that anger. In internalizing that anger, anger that ferments is bitterness.

 

I can think of six times in my personal experience where I have been the victim of blatant racism.  Nothing like JoJo’s experience but upsetting none the less.  Two of them extremely personal and painful and had to do with family.  One of them showed me that when it comes down to it our white youth still prefer to see “white faces” and are uncomfortable around non-white faces.  Two cases had to do with our legal system and law enforcement.  The sixth had to do with a nasty situation that happened to my wife and me.  I don’t want to give the details but know these aren’t “microaggressions” – they were very real and very sad.

So yes in some cases and instances white attitudes exist that are very much about supporting and perpetuating white privilege and unconscious perceptions of whites as better.  But I tell all four of my children – so what – its not blatant, its not as systemic as it used to be and you have no excuses.  Go out into the world and work through any challenges and setbacks be they race related or not – you have the opportunity and no one can take that from you.  And if you encounter someone who is white and is clearly not as supportive as they should be – pray for them, show them compassion and love.

So whats the answer to getting past these issues of white privilege?   It’s following the examples Jesus gave us and commanded us.  If your black its turning the cheek, praying for those who knowingly or unknowingly work against you, and having a heart of forgiveness.  I think its also knowing that in general most white people aren’t intentionally racist and don’t want to see anyone held back.

If your white is having a heart of compassion and a servant’s heart towards non-whites.  Even if you feel someone maybe a bit “whiny” about the challenges of being black in America you listen, you try to understand and you support. Its realizing the anger is still there from 20, 30, 40 years ago that has been discussed and talked about to younger generations of blacks.

So in summary, the answer is to live as Christ would have us live.

 

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