White Fragility… Courageous Imperfection…and gratitude

The other day in a moment of incredible frustration I posted this on my Facebook page.

I’m just getting really, really sick of old white men calling all of the shots in DC! I love the old white guys in my life and respect their opinions but these guys in DC seem like monsters coming from the black lagoon!! Or a very icky swamp that was supposed to have been drained! Maybe they are the sludge at the bottom that needs cleaned out! What really pisses me off is how many women voted for them!! They can just keep sowing their patriarchy and over reaching authority because with every single thing they do they put another burr under the feminist saddle, the minority saddle, the environmentalist saddle, the Muslim saddle, the immigrant saddle and well…this angry actually LIVID horse is going to run their asses out of town at the very first chance it gets. In the mean time we are going to make this ride miserable for each and every one

Sometimes when posting it is easy forget that anyone else will read what you say because in the moment it’s simply just this great platform to express yourself…and ready for it or not…the pushback comes and  hits you square in the face. So was my experience with this post last week. I was completely surprised when a usually like-minded friend took great offense at my post. Because I singled out the whiteness of the current administration and number of elected officials as well as their age and gender, he determined that my comments were racist. I did my best to explain to him why I was not racist even so far as looking up the definition of the word and sharing that with him. I tried angle after angle to elaborate on why a concentration of old, white males in DC is bothersome to me and that saying so does not indicate that I am racist. He would have none of it. He even went so far to say this…

“Have you ever heard the axiom that the word but is an eraser? It erases everything in front of it.” 
One of the great passions of my life has been racial equality so I took this pushback very seriously. I grew up in a low income and diverse community in the 60’s.  My classmates were white, brown, black and various shades in-between. As my father’s earning potential increased it was as if bleach had been added to the neighborhoods I moved into. It was especially so  when my family arrived in Northeast Nebraska in 1973.  Racism wasn’t a community issue then because there really were few people there of any other skin color.
I became a born again Christian while living there and whiteness became even more exclusive to me. It was even explained to me that in the Bible God had cursed the descendants of Ham and darkened their skin as an answer to why we had black people on the earth. The implication that followed was that Christians are white because God prefers whiteness. Pictures of Jesus were white. It was also a prevailing thought that America was blessed because it was full of God’s chosen white people. Simultaneously, however, we were commanded to share this gospel with every tribe, tongue and nation which would bring us into constant contact with those of other skin colors.
Thankfully it was the emphasis on converting others to the faith that drew me into multiple relationships with nonwhite people and almost continually provided me with an education of my own, but denied white privilege. I began to notice though none of us intended this to be the case, there was an incredible ethnocentricity and American superiority that existed within us. Others noticed too and we often challenged it within ourselves and one another. It was clear that the one key element to challenging our intrinsic ethnocentric worldview was the need to take our level of concern beyond nondiscrimination and become students of how being white very literally made our lives so different from conception to the grave.
Our race’s preference for whiteness may seem like an illusion to most of us in 2017 but the reality is that this preference it is so deeply embedded in our very being that nothing but intense effort and deep personal reflection will allow it to be acknowledged. When our purposed intention to treat others without reference to race, gender or age is confronted with this, it can be extremely painful. I came to a partial understanding of my own white privilege in the world when I realized that one of the reasons my family was able to break out of poverty had to do with my father’s ability to locate investors for his business. My dad had incredible boldness and at one point approached his boss for a loan. As I thought about it through the lens of whiteness, I realized that had he been black, my father very likely wouldn’t have been in a relationship with his white boss to the degree that he would have felt comfortable even asking for a loan, let alone being given one. That one loan made all the difference for my family. That one loan continues to impact my brother and I as well as his grandchildren.
Whiteness and the color of my father’s skin has everything to do with the quality of my life in the present moment and is something I constantly wrestle with. As I wrestle, one thing has become crystal clear to me. Racial injustice will not end by white people being nice to those with a skin color different from our own. It will not end by affirmative action or anti discrimination laws. Though necessary, those laws are barely the tip of the iceberg. Nothing will end until we as white people are the ones most critical of our own race. We must call out concentrations of white preference and the Trump administration is glaringly reflective of that. By calling it out, what I’m calling attention to is that the president, as well as way too many of the American people have chosen a high concentration of older white men because they genuinely want a country led by older, white men. This does not translate to saying that older white men are bad. What it does translate into is that when the concentration of any age group, race or gender is in control, the reality is that the work will reflect a very narrow worldview. In this case, I am very, very tired of being led by the older, white male worldview. It is time for that worldview – way past time for that worldview, to be called on the carpet and transformed into something else.
Until white men seriously challenge this worldview, there will be no comprehension of why blacks form organizations like Black Lives Matter. Until men in general seriously challenge their male privilege there will be no understanding why women want equal pay for equal work. Until men understand that women are not primarily for sex or domestic slavery there will be no deeper understanding that they are highly intelligent in and of themselves. Until the aged among us understand that the voices of those younger than ourselves are significant and belong at our side, there will be great loss the future of our species.
One cannot attempt to eradicate racism or injustice of any kind until one has the courage to confront his/her own kind. Yes, we are vulnerable to taking it too far but that is a vulnerability I am committed to embracing each time I speak about it. A very important read for all of us would be a post from OnBeing’s columnist Courtney E. Martin called Transforming White Fragility Into Courageous Imperfection. I don’t know any white person who has gone after her own whiteness like she has. Her column gave me grace to continue to pursue equality and justice for all in the midst of my own white fragility. I simply cannot be an advocate for others if I cannot have the ability to call out my own people so I will continue to embrace the idea that though imperfect, I am courageous. And, Courtney, if you are reading this, my deepest bows of gratitude to you and your work.

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