Corona, noun. A part of the body resembling or likened to a crown.
I’ve railed about white privilege in the past but now the issue may actually be resonating among those of us who have been enjoying it the most. I’m well aware of the bias of mine and my fellow whites. But that doesn’t mean I understand what it’s like to be black. I grew up in a comfy suburb, sheltered from the oppression. Many of my friends growing up simply cannot relate to the suffering of their fellow humans. The ”American Way” is wholly unfair to people of color. It works great for whites but it is a living hell for most people of color. Until that changes, there will be protests and riots. How can any of us live in a world where an entire segment of society must escape and work 10 times harder just to get the same college education as whites, can’t get the same pay as whites, where the justice and prison system is oppressing them? I recently attempted to analyze the recent protests but clearly my perspective is limited by the color of my skin. I believe I have empathy and am committed to supporting the fight for equality. I will continue to march in solidarity with the oppressed, but I will never be able to relate completely to what it is to be black in America, because I wear a Corona that I cannot remove, no matter what I do.
I decided I wanted to write yet another blog about this racial pandemic, this time specifically addressed to those of us who are white. For me, there is a terrible feeling of guilt around the subject of race. Call it “white guilt” if you must, but I made a choice long ago to be conscientious about race. Fortunately, I was brought up in a home where racism was absolutely not tolerated. I have worked all my life to break down barriers, checked my own feelings of bias and encouraged dialogue around the subject of equality; I’ve tried to deepen my understanding of race, make amends when needed and seek avenues for healing.
I remember when I was 18 in Detroit, being passed over for a spot at U of M’s music school by a fellow clarinetist of color. I also remember making the choice to accept this reality as a “necessary evil.” I was happy for him. I was held up at gun point by a black man and was the victim of a number of crimes in my twenties, all perpetrated by blacks. Like many whites, I’ve feel I’ve occasionally been snubbed, insulted and treated badly by blacks, not because of anything I did to them personally, but simply because I was white. In each and every case, I have made the sometimes difficult, but always conscious decision not to blame all blacks for the actions of these few individuals.
On the other hand, 99.9% of every encounter I’ve had with people of color has been pleasurable and enriching. Honestly, there is something a little exotic about people of color. In most cases, I’m dealing with a different culture. And I love cultural exchanges, even if it is with one of my neighbors. It’s awful how many of us only remember the negative experiences we have had with “the other.” This is a tragic human trait. So we have to make the choice in every moment to think beyond our Limbic impulses.
I feel the pain of friends I grew up with and their outrage with blacks for taking to the streets with rioting and looting. They seem to have a hard time distinguishing between peaceful protesters and rioters. Sometimes its a fine line, but it is not a line you and I get to draw. I have listened patiently as my old friends growing up have divided the protesters into neat little groups: those who protest peacefully and those who don’t. “That’s not how we do things,” as if to suggest, naively, that blacks inherently would not know how to do things, if they were in power.
Just like the negative experiences we remember having with “the other,” we can also easily point to cases where “blacks in charge” failed in the service of their duty. Again, it easy to point to the low hanging fruit to reach the darkest of conclusions. “We can do better than this,” when spoken by a white person, is the very definition of white privilege and racism. I don’t think we should get to say how the protestors of oppression get to protest. We gave up our right to tell others how they should behave when we chose to perpetuate the legacy of oppression by electing people who have sworn to protect OUR property, who made it possible for OUR kids to get a decent education and good healthcare, while pushing blacks into the corner as marginalized citizens, where their rights did not matter. I too once thought we were better than this. But we have not done better in our over 400 year history on this continent. We squandered our right to sit and judge black lives long ago. We are the problem and always have been. If we had any integrity or an once of Godly wisdom, we would be ashamed of ourselves and dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to making this right.
Truth be told, I don’t feel entirely comfortable with the idea of giving up my white privilege. I’m afraid, just like the rest of us. It takes a special kind of bravery to give up the comforts of privilege. Nevertheless, I support our giving up control, for a lot of the same reasons I support having more women in government. White men being in control has not exactly produced the best results, as these and other protests have proven time and time again, throughout our history. I think people who have not had their say are often more qualified to tackle change and progress. I also simply believe that maintaining white supremacy and the institutional racism it has produced is not in line with the teachings of Christ. As I’ve said many times, I no longer wish to live in a world where oppression is the accepted norm. I believe without true freedom and equality, none of us will really ever have peace in mind, body and spirit.
Now, I don’t know for sure what giving up my privilege looks like. Right now it looks like chaos. But I have faith God is in control and His truth will prevail and healing is possible. We need to elect way more people of color, for a start, so they are better represented in government. Perhaps the defunding of police movement may produce less funding for military style weaponry and fewer boots on the ground in hot urban areas, in favor of fewer police, who are more connected to the neighborhoods they serve. Perhaps instead of rewarding police for the number of citations they write, they should receive bonuses for every HS game or community event they attend. Officers should have a duty to report bad behavior by their colleagues. The justice system will need a shakedown, with its school to for-profit prisons. And where overcrowded prisons are disproportionately occupied by people of color.
Again, these will be the decision of those in power, shared by the stakeholders themselves.The entire process will be difficult and fraught with danger, as the power shifts to people of color and to women, moving always closer to an ever more representational government. There will be corruption; we will go backwards before we go forward. There will be confusion and outrage. But somewhere down the line, I pray that change will come to our institutions. True equality will no longer just be paid lip service, but will one day become enshrined into the laws of the land. That process might take decades or we can usher in a new era of equality within a few years. It depends a lot on our willingness to face our own fears and embrace with courage the inevitability of change.