Like many of us today, I live in a bubble, thanks to Covid-19, the plague of our time. I live in a suburban apartment complex to which I have only recently moved. Most days, I don’t even see a neighbor. I write nearly every day, trying to produce, on paper, the wonders I see in my mind. This is my work since my retirement, and I love it.
The world I live in is a far cry from the one I was raised in and, because of those childhood memories, I tend to make certain assumptions. But every once in a while, something transpires to challenge those assumptions and I have to stop and recognize the truth of my situation.
I am retired, no matter that the decision was not mine, and that brings with it a certain set of facts. I have a lifetime pension, small as it is, and I draw Social Security benefits due to my age. Because of that, oddly enough, the current environment and economic difficulties affect me less than it might others. My income is fixed no matter the economic landscape and I am not in fear of unemployment.
I have to recognize that white privilege has made my current life possible. And I don’t have to even consider some of the difficulties my neighbors face every single day, because I’m white. Even the fact that my pension and Social Security are enough to cover my expenses is due to the fact that, as a single white woman, I had a job that paid well enough to fund these two resources. Even the fact that I was never out of a job longer than six months, if I examine it closely, is due to the fact that I am white.
I wonder if a single Black woman, with a young child, would be able to say the same. I know that few Native American women could.
Those assumptions I spoke of? Assuming that other Whites are aware of the concept of white fragility. We admit that we have been raised in a racist system, although many of us have never experienced the results close up. I think few can ever honestly say that our system is not racist.
Even as we make this admission, we have to make a conscious effort to remind ourselves about what it means to be white in a racist world. Otherwise, that world becomes invisible (to us), and we are doomed to perpetuate that unjust system.
But to acknowledge white privilege and remind ourselves of it is not enough. To dissolve the current system we must take action.
I came of age in the ’60s. I can hear the moans now, “Oh yes, the hippie generation>” Well, yes. But that “hippie generation” took a stand, wrong or right. They were there at Little Rock alongside their Black brothers and sisters and they bussed into Birmingham and sometimes they were injured or died alongside their Black brothers and sisters. Did they make a difference? I can’t say for sure, but the schools were desegregated and they stood up to be counted. And I am glad they are standing up again in the many protests being held across the country. I thought that idealism was dead, lost with the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
We, and I am referring to the White half of my heritage, did not create slavery in the United States, that was done many generations before us. But we do silently sanction the racism that has sprung from the arrival of that first slave ship. We sanction it every time we witness cruelty or injustice and don’t speak out. This has to stop or we have no right to call ourselves as enlightened as we would like to hope we are.