I distinctly recall (as a teenager!) wanting to be an elementary teacher in an ‘urban’ school, authentically connecting with a room of black students. I imagined myself leading a group of children in a facilitated learning activity, sitting as a group on a large carpet in the corner. And as a young white person, I did see my white skin as a probable barrier for that authentic connection. And that was my understanding of white privilege (whether I would have called it that or not!). My whiteness could be a real hurdle in relationship building with people of color, specifically black people.
A lot has changed for me since that desire to teach as a teenager and that initial acknowledgment that whiteness is an actual thing that I personally have to live with and deal with and figure out.
I raised my racial consciousness through seeking out specific learning opportunities:
- I studied sociology and race relations.
- I participated then led directed action for social justice.
- I secured employment at places with a staff of majority black people.
- I built authentic relationships with people outside my white network of contacts.
- I attended predominantly black churches.
So I now see that even my desire to offer my white help to black students (in the form of elementary teaching in an ‘urban’ school) is a form of white privilege.
- First, I experienced a fair amount of freedom in choosing a career path.
- Second, I didn’t have any concern about my legitimacy in the space as an authority figure.
- Third, I saw myself in a helper role to people of color.
- Fourth, I was focused on the barrier that I inherently bring, and I was not focused on the institutional racism that perpetuates significant barriers for people of color.
Let’s break this thing down…
White privilege: the privilege of not knowing or fully understanding
White privilege: the privilege of focusing on the individual over the system
White privilege: the privilege of assumed options, freedom, rights, opportunities
White privilege: the privilege of believing white help is beneficial to people of color
White privilege: the privilege of ignoring white racism
White privilege: the privilege of avoiding responsibility in response to racism
Here is what I believe to be true…
I have a responsibility to acknowledge my own white privilege and to explore what that means for my life’s experiences, my current perspectives, and my future decisions. That is my responsibility. I cannot pass that on to anyone else to address on my behalf.
Thus, my encouragement and challenge to you is simply this…
To the white readers:
- Get woke
- Stay woke
- Wake up another white person
My intent was to model for you what this process may look like in this very blog post.
- Get Woke: I sought out learning experiences on my own. I did not assume it was someone else’s responsibility to raise my racial consciousness. (While I certainly have benefited tremendously from being in personal relationship with people of color.)
- Stay Woke: I continue to seek opportunities to challenge myself, elevate my own thinking, and direct my concern into real action. (While I certainly could be doing even more!)
- Wake up another white person: More and more, I believe this is the true responsibility of white people. (And that is why I wrote this blog post.)
Absolutely, many people of color may be ready and willing to explain their experiences, but should the burden fall to the victim of the racist system and culture?
Or should those who have benefited (i.e. white privilege) from the racist system and culture take full responsibility? Can we acknowledge our own inherent participation (whether intentionally or unintentionally – it doesn’t matter!) in the racist system and culture? Can we proactively seek opportunities to direct their participation in more fruitful ways? And, can we model this process and their learning with fellow white people who have also benefited from the racist system and culture?
Yes. I believe so. This is why I am declaring that the greatest form of white help is to dismantle a racist system and culture by helping other white people (white person to white person) understand white privilege as a part of a racist system and culture.
People of color do not need my sympathy, my sorry, or my well-intended conversations.
The best thing that I can do as a woke white person in relationship to people of color is use my privilege for their benefit (in an attempt to combat the racist system and culture):
- Intentionally vote for people of color (and woke white candidates)
- Intentionally direct my buying behavior toward people of color business owners (and woke white business owners)
- Intentionally direct my giving, my volunteering, and my advocacy toward people of color (and social justice causes)
- Intentionally leverage my influence personally and professionally by building a network of contacts including people of color (and woke white people)
To the people of color reading this blog post:
- I love you.
- I respect you.
- I want you to thrive.
- And I want to help develop a system and a culture that is set up for you to thrive.
- Now I am taking action to make these statements a greater reality for you.
- Because I see my responsibility as a white person in getting woke, staying woke, and helping another white person get woke.
About the Blogger:
Jessica Journey is living each day authentically and abundantly…and invites you to join her! Jessica is a sought-after coach, speaker, and consultant. She empowers people to live the good life now by intentionally leveraging their God-given resources and abilities. Jessica is a woman of faith, a wife and mother in a multicultural family, career fundraiser, living kidney donor, curly hair advocate, and zumba enthusiast.
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