Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Journey to understanding "white privilege"

It started at about 8 years old when I would drive with my dad and brother into Wilmington where my dad lived.  It was an every other weekend trek.  I remember him telling me to lock the doors, this was before automatic locks.  It was never stated why, but it was understood because of fear of the neighborhood and the people that lived in the neighborhood.  This was an indoctrination that many white people go through when they drive through cities that have reputations for being rough.  I never asked any questions why.  I trusted my dad and usually did not question him.  Later when he moved to Philadelphia we would often zig zag from the parking garage to his townhouse on Lombard.  Always seeming to avoid certain people.  Don't know how much thought I put into the reasons.  It was just something I was told to do.  Without a doubt, it began to shape my opinions and feelings, forming stereotypes, that I would have to later work on tearing down.

There was then a struggle with my own racism for years to come.  I would learn things in school about civil rights and the struggles of the African American person.  I would have regular interactions with classmates of color as I attended diverse schools from 4th grade on.  Delaware used bussing to integrate communities during my schooling career.  I would have interactions with friends, adults, neighbors, etc. that at times seemed to contradict what I thought to be right, but did not understand.

Then news events occurred like LA riots in 1992.  Known as the "Rodney King riots" my understanding as an 8th grader became frustration, but also confusion as to why?  There was music, like one of my favorites Public Enemy, that taught me there were inequalities.  Then the Cosby Show, that seemed to indicate that if you were African American, and became a doctor, then everything would be fine and dandy.  Just become a doctor...

All of these seem to conflict at times.

I knew my path, there was no choice; college and career, that was the ONLY path I ever knew.  I did not understand my privilege.  I knew I was lucky, but that is where it stopped.  I did not appreciate it, but I was beginning to understand it.

Then I had a few experiences my senior year in high school, and I began to shape my opinions and beliefs.  Most involved sports, clubs, and classes that were always diverse.  This is where, through exposure and understanding that I began to understand my "white privilege".

I wonder how, without interactions, do we white people, ever really understand or keep this conversation of bettering race relations in the forefront of our thinking?  How do we keep from turning the news off, locking our doors in cities, and zig zagging across city streets at night?  How do we realize this is where we are and we need to do more to accept, understand, and reach out?

I don't blame my dad for doing what he did, it was how he was raised to believe.  Those were the lessons he learned and was passing on to me, but now a new generation, and I want to pass on different lessons to my kids, students, and everyone I come in contact with.

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