The Exercise That Opened My Eyes to White Privilege
I didn't know that much could affect me after this exercise. My world had just been rocked. I felt as though I had been blind for 29 years, yet I hadn't known it. There was such a huge divide, and I had been living life ignorantly thinking that we were all equal. In fact, I had prided myself on that, that I was on my black friends' level. I felt like such a fool.
Sadly, this exercise was just a primer for the pain that I was about to take in. Over the next few weeks, I sat as my peers and elders of color told me stories that I could not fathom. I heard about the training black men receive as adolescents. How they are taught not to scare or intimidate white women. I sat in shame as men that I looked up to informed me that their fathers taught them to slouch around women who looked like me. One young man's father instructed him never to get on an elevator with a white woman, so that there could never be a chance for allegations. These men—good, Christian men—had lived their entire lives tiptoeing around the Caucasian race. It was ingrained in them to take extra steps so as to not set off fear. It was all so foreign to me. Unfathomable. Every cell in my body wanted to believe it was untrue. How I could I have lived in close community with a whole race of people and been completely oblivious that this was happening? That's not possible, right? So I set out to seek truth.
I started contacting all of my black childhood friends I could find. I even found my friend who lived in that big house in my old neighborhood. Surely, their experiences weren't the same! We grew up together; we played in each other's homes. I would have known if these guys had been getting messages like I was learning about. The Lord must have heard me when I asked for truth, because I got it. Without fail, every friend that I contacted told me the same thing. This crushing message was stuck on repeat, and it echoed eerily similarly every time.
To top it off, I heard more stories. The police profiling my friends; store clerks following them for no reason. Ludicrous! These are some of the most gentle and kind guys I have ever known! When I tried to add in the history that we all know, that got us here in the first place, and then the history that has never been taught, it was just too much. The curtain had been lifted, and my world was permanently shifted.
I spent months after this experience being angry. And I spent months more second-guessing every single thing I did with every African-American I came in contact with. Like I said before, I had always been so comfortable and confident with all races, I really never thought much about it. I guess you could say I went through a phase of white guilt. Now, it's settled in more. I can't blame myself for not knowing the truth before I did, because there's really no way I could have. But I know now, and there is definitely no arguing it, so I have an obligation to my brothers and sisters to speak up.
I think that people try to deny or ignore this issue, mainly because it's just too big—it's too painful—and as white people, we just can't wrap our minds around it. It's not our reality, so it's easier to dismiss it, or to say it's not real, than to fight a fight that's not technically ours. But if I had a friend who came to me and said she was struggling with something I had never been through, it would be cruel if I ignored her, or told her she was overreacting, or told her it didn't involve me, so I didn't want to hear about it. No true friend would ever do that! But that's what we as a people are doing to our brothers and sisters!
And it absolutely kills me the most when I see it from people that call themselves Christians. Because here is the newsflash: We all have racism. We all have judgments based on skin color or ethnicity. We are fallen, and worldly. But the point of striving to be more like Jesus is to pick ourselves up, swallow our pride, trust His word and take care of our neighbors. We are going to have conflict. There are going to be things I don't understand about other people. I am going to mess up and offend someone, and people are going to offend me. But the day that I leave my brothers and sisters stranded... the day that I allow them to be mistreated and abused, and I don't do anything about because it makes me uncomfortable? That's on my head.