Question–Don’t Assume

White privilege: Three shiploads of European explorers ramming into a continent that was already home to several million inhabitants, claiming to the world that they “discovered” it, and subsequently having that ridiculous claim validated. White privilege: Thinking another human would be better off, or even a better person if they would only react to situations more like you. White privilege: Believing your culture is the standard to which all others should aspire.

Until we all understand that blue eyes are not the ideal, that a small nose and pale skin are not the standard by which all others are judged, we will continue to think that differences are problems to be fixed and not the miracle of individualism to be celebrated.

Differences that get dismissed or ridiculed by those exercising white privilege go way beyond physical characteristics to include cultural and learned behaviors. When a person in power doesn’t understand culture, assumes their way of thinking is “right”, says sternly, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” and a child or subordinate has been taught that act is disrespectful and looks away, the supervisor decides to fix the problem by forcing the other to look into his eyes. Now the original problem, that may have been legitimate in school or the workplace, is lost and the battle is over whose culture is right.

No single group is blameless. We all share responsibility to continue to work toward a post racial United States. With that stated, this column deals with only one–one that is often shoved under the table. The single issue argued here, not by any stretch the final answer or lone culprit, is this: White people think we are without race and the standard for humanity.  It is like Midwesterners thinking they have no accent (they do) and thereby are the standard for spoken English (they aren’t).

There will be racism until white people realize that we are a race with traits and cultural biases that are not universal standards. That egocentric thinking is what led to Fascism in 1933 Germany. That is what led to American slavery in the 1600’s and allowed Jim Crow to begin to flourish in 1876. A white population that believed it was without race is what caused it to be okay for American soldiers to slaughter Natives and corral those who survived onto reservations. It is appalling to read that Native Americans make up one percent of our population today–they lived here for centuries before those three ships washed up on their shore. But, a race-less white population considered them savage even though they were fiercely religious, communal, and earth-proud. So, those beliefs, being considered savage because they didn’t match the standard, had to be fixed.

It goes without saying that any majority thought that it is okay for one person to own another, or that only one gender of one race had the wherewithal to set the direction of a country that claims personal freedoms and equality for all, or when the wisest of those race-less thinking whites felt it was okay to consider another human soul three-fifths of a person in our most crucial legal document is strong evidence of faulty wiring in white people’s mindset.

I am certainly being critical here, but I’m not castigating. I’m pleading for progress. And, to make progress, we have to make changes. There are changes every race needs to make, but we can only work on ourselves. We can’t expect someone else to go first and believe we’ll follow.

Differences should not be judged as right or wrong, but accepted with joy. Until then, there will continue to be mismatches like 44 white male faces, one black one with no women on presidential posters in schools. We will continue to talk about percentages of people of color in single digits when discussing most any issue historic or exceptional.

The key is to question–question and do not assume. When that supervisor required the subordinate to look him in the eye, he didn’t question how that demand would effect the basic beliefs of the other. When the Founding Fathers inked in that slaves were to be considered less than whole, it was born from political debate and compromise. There was never a question of the repercussions black Americans would endure then or in the future.

If one believes they belong to a race-less class that sets the standard, questions about others’ intent do not often enter the discussion. The current flap over standing vs. kneeling for our National Anthem is yet another example. Black athletes are trying to use their celebrity to peacefully and constitutionally call attention to ongoing and real racial injustice–hopefully, opening new discussions.

The steamroller of white privilege assumes–without asking–that the kneeling is to disrespect the flag, anthem, American soldiers, and the country in general and, by golly, it needs to be fixed. Nothing could be further from the truth. All it takes is a moment to question, listen, and think: “That’s not what I would do, but I can see the point and we must honor it.

Comments

  1. Harold White says:

    Spewing a lot of rhetoricical anti Americanism with no stats or facts is just that, spewing.

  2. Beth Fletcher says:

    Mike,
    Very well said. Respect the reason for the kneeling down and don’t disrespect the person kneeling down. Respect the person and don’t disrespect the color of the person. There is too much ASSUMING going on when you judge a person by the color of their skin and remember what ASSUME means when broken down by the letters.

  3. Miriam Samuels says:

    I’m with Harold. What a load of garbage. Even the original kneeling also included socks with pigs dressed as cops. And statistics do not back up the narrative of evil cops killing blacks. Also, the idea of a bunch of multi millionaires being oppressed, while a white coal miner in West Virginia has white privilege is patently absurd.

  4. Connie Foust says:

    I don’t look at color, it is not relevant. What is relevant is how people treat each other and respect different value systems. As I read this column I was reminded that slavery has existed and still exists all over the world. I refuse to accept guilt for what someone did before I was born. This article was divisive as all progressive articles are by pushing guilt on those who don’t have a racist frame of mind. I would prefer all American’s accept elections and move forward together as American’s. Not as Hispanic Americans or Black American’s or White American’s.

  5. Terry Donnelly says:

    Ms. Foust, thank you for responding. Your tone is to dismiss my thoughts, but your words largely help make my case, especially in your first two sentences and your last two. White privilege isn’t just about the negatives. It is about the positives that pale skin brings us on a daily basis. We don’t ask for it, nor do we earn it. It’s just there. It is easy to see that racism is a disadvantage to others, but the difficult part is seeing the corollary that makes it an advantage for us. There are tons of examples, many subtle. We can do well in our endeavors and not be called a “credit to our race.” We can remain oblivious of languages and customs of other races with impunity–nothing changes in our lives if we don’t understand why some Hispanics don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo as an example. We can criticize government and not be in jeopardy of criticism or repercussions. If we need help of any kind–health, legal, financial–we can be pretty sure our skin color won’t ever work against us getting that help. When we choose to pursue a goal, become educated, and seek to work within that field, there are no further barriers with which we need to contend. White people have not been pulled over by the police for simply driving a car with no other reason than being black. We don’t get followed around a store by owners or management due to looking suspicious. People don’t cross the street when they see us walking toward them. We didn’t earn any of that, but we get that respect automatically. When we think of eliminating racism we think of bringing others up to our level–give them what we have, but that isn’t possible. To gain full equality we can’t all be privileged. We need to cede some of our power to others. That is the tough part to contemplate. It’s not about blame or guilt, it’s about giving up some of our power. It’s about progress.

  6. Eyline Cowart says:

    I agree 100% with Connie Foust. Terry Donnelly your article stereotypes white people the same way some white people stereotype black people. And, many “whites” have never been the recipient of this so-called “White Privilege.”

  7. Discussions about race are difficult, usually because of our blinders, cultural or ethnic. If a white person’s daily interactions (your neighborhood, workplace, church and school) are mostly with people who look and act like you, why should we be surprised when we misread the social cues of other cultures? If we really want equality and equal opportunity we must be willing to step out of our comfort zone. If I am honest with myself that means leading with curiosity more often than fear.

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