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.