Monday, October 08, 2007

Confronting our Privilige

Several months ago an 86 year old area character in the subdivision I live in shocked me when I stopped to tell him about our new neighbors-to-be. His first question was "Are They White?" Given that my partner is Black, I like to think I'm a little sensitive and aware related to issues of race and tolerance.

Then he commented on how beautiful my (Black) car is using the "N" word twice in extremely racist ways. I ended the conversation immediately and left - stunned. I told my partner later what happened and she asked me about Confronting his Racism. I lamely said that he, an 86 year old wouldn't change.

The next morning I confronted the man. (I realized that my passivity was part of the problem!) Bob didn't know that my partner is Black - obviously! He apologized. I've never talked with him directly since then by choice though I see him all the time. IF his words of apology or actions thereafter had indicated a desire to share and talk and change it would be different for me. I don't want to tacitly support his racism.

My natural reaction to areas like this that bother me a lot is to think and "care", but not really to do much to change things.

In the 1960's as "Black Power" gained strength and "Civil Rights" became less common, we White Folks were told over-and-over again that it was time for us to begin the serious work of ending Racism in the White Communities of the U.S. It was time to let Black People lead their Movement and for we, the "bad people", to make serious change where it needed to be made.

To a large degree we've never done our job and racism continues to this day largely as a result of this.

We may be "liberal" and thereby "aware". We tend, however, not to translate our purported insights to action.

Racism may be the best example of this however it also applies in other areas. We men don't work with other men to end sexism. In a slightly different way We who oppose the War in Iraq don't really seriously work to end the War.



poodledoc said...

I have come to believe that the Black Power movement did much, much more harm to the Civil Rights movement than most people---white or black, realize, and for different reasons. I recommend reading about Bayard Rustin and his views on this. He was black, gay and a Quaker. Organized the March on Washington. And he vigorously opposed the Black Power movement. Why? Because it gave the white "establishment" a chance to engage in violence against violence, which the civil rights movment, inspired by Gandhi, had largely avoided. I'm not saying that civil rights workers avoided violence or weren't hurt and killed. I am saying that once agroup, acting for change, gives in to violence, they severely damage if not destroy the movement. Of course, that's easy for me to say, 'cause I'm a white guy. But Bayard was black. They called him an Uncle Tom for what he said. Good post.

jeff said...

I'm constantly amazed by how often other white men think that I'll be complicit in their racism simply because I'm a white man. It happens at least a few times a year to me...