white privilege

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Part of series of open letters to my daughters: mama always said

Dear white child of mine,

Last evening I attended an equity and inclusion meeting held in the library at one of your schools. I’ve been to a few of these meetings already, and I don’t think I’ve attended one where I haven’t shed a few tears. I got there a little early (unusual, I know), so I browsed through the books your librarian had highlighted for Black History Month. Picking up Hidden Figures, I read through the Prologue:

“Growing up in Hampton, Virginia, I assumed the face of science was brown like mine. … It wasn’t until I was older that I appreciated just how extraordinary this occupation was for black women in the South during the days of segregation.”

I immediately fell in love with the idea of the first sentence – the childlike innocence. No fear. No knowledge that it was unusual, unexpected, and in many cases, impossible for a black woman to be a NASA mathematician. I wish that sort of innocence could be bottled and given out in heavy doses to those of us who’ve lost it somewhere along the way. That’s part of what the meeting last evening was all about – protecting the innocent, as well as the innocence of our children.

I left the meeting with the question bouncing around in my head, “What, then, should I do with my white privilege?” Here’s what I came up with and wanted to share with you:

Acknowledge it

Girls, you are white. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. You are also privileged. This may or may not come as a surprise to you. You didn’t ask for. You didn’t work for it. You probably didn’t even aspire to it. Yet, it’s a fact. Acknowledging your white privilege may be uncomfortable, but ignoring the fact that you are white and that it holds advantages is lying to yourself. And conversely, if you claim to be ‘color-blind’ or that you don’t see race, you are neglecting to recognize the diverse beauty of our world. Ignoring race won’t put you on neutral ground … it will make you a part of the problem, not the solution.

Embrace it

I’ve spent a lot of time being embarrassed for being white. I have taken on the guilt and shame for the atrocities whites have done to others of different skin color. I have felt disgusted when reading about slavery, appalled at segregation, and enraged at hate crimes. Many times I have cried out to God for forgiveness for the sins of these white people. I have felt so ashamed of my privilege and wanted to crawl out of my white skin.

Yet, God was the one who painted my skin. He’s also the one who reminded me that the sins of these hateful people are not mine. These evil white people do not speak for me. I’ve grown to be thankful for my skin color and embrace it. And you should too. That doesn’t mean you should just sit idle in thankfulness while reading a story of racial discrimination saying, “Wow! I’m glad that won’t ever happen to me.” No, you should continue to be outraged. Then you should channel that outrage into something good.

Employ it

You have been given the upper hand. Use your hands for good. Shake hands. Give hugs. Hold doors. Write encouraging notes. Carry others’ burdens with those strong, open hands.

You have been given a bigger voice. Use it to speak up for others who have a weaker one. Stand up to bullying. Speak kind words. A simple “hello” will sometimes do just fine. But sometimes you’ll need a “How are you? Do you need anything?”. And you’ll need to be ready to act.

Also, remember to also employ your eyes and ears. Seeing others for who they are, trusting them in their own skin is such a gift. And listening is the greatest gift and teacher of all.

Girls, you are both blessed to be attending schools in a district that views diversity as a strength, respecting and valuing ALL students and their families. That was reiterated last evening at our meeting. You are also blessed to live in a community where you are exposed daily to different races, cultures, languages, and religions. You are learning compassion, insight, and empathy at a greater pace due to these experiences. Don’t ever slow down.

You can be world-changers if you acknowledge, embrace, and use your white privilege for good.

Love always,

You white mom

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