Over the last few months I have had several experiences that have caused me to question my thoughts on racism in America. However, nothing has affected me more than what happened in my Tuesday class. I will explain.
Last summer my wife and I visited Virginia. We did all of the touristy stuff, Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, and many of the Civil War sites. The first few days we spent reviewing the revolutionary war and the last half was spent in the Civil War. I have lived in Vancouver, Washington for 37 years, and have worked with many different people, but I was amazed at how diverse Virginia was, and how un-diverse, relatively speaking, Vancouver is. Needless to say, that got me thinking. I also began to think about how freedom was expressed as everyone’s right, but even our founding fathers had slaves, even seeing themselves as benevolent white saviors.
The second event happened last weekend. I, and my family, took a trip to California. We did the Disneyland thing celebrating my wife’s birthday, my birthday, my daughter’s boyfriend’s son’s birthday (if that makes sense to you), my son and his wife’s anniversary (10th), and our anniversary (25th). We also travelled to the valley to see my Uncle. It was a great trip. I was impacted by the amount of so many different people that visit Disneyland. There were so many different languages, ethnicities, and styles of dress; it was truly a wonderful experience.
However, it was Tuesday’s class that really got me thinking. I had placed a question on a test that asked the students what characteristic was critical for the entrepreneur. It was a multiple-choice question that had several options as a choice. The entrepreneur could be a linear thinker, white male, non-linear thinker, and the last option escapes me right now. The answer to the question, based upon the text by Warren Bennis, was non-linear thinker. The phrase white male upset some of my students, which led to a discussion in class about white privilege.
Personally I have never thought of myself as racist. I grew up in the LA area, went to school most of my life with people of different races and ethnicities, and worked with and supervised diverse people. But after this conversation on Tuesday, I have come to the conclusion I have some personal work in this area of diversity. I have taught the subject, discussed it ad nauseum in graduate courses, but I am now convinced I had no idea how deep this issue is in our nation, and had no real understanding of the subject.
As the discussion in my class began I watched the students respond in many different ways. The students of color in my class began by saying all white students have a back up plan. The white students felt uncomfortable about saying anything, so they got quiet. Eventually, one white student did respond and said she did not have a back up plan and did not have white privilege. Another stated that this was a good discussion, but hopefully it is not just complaining.
Even some of the students of color got quiet. We then watched a Ted talk by a black woman, named Melody, who is married to a white man, about racism in America. After this event, I came to the conclusion I have no real understanding of this issue, and I have been fooling myself all this time. I am now on a crusade, if it is ok to use this term, to figure this stuff out. It is a complex issue.
I am a sixty-three year old white male, soon to be sixty-four, who has been fairly successful in my life. I have worked hard all of my life, so having someone tell me that I am privileged initially rubs me the wrong way. However, when we define white privilege as a “benefit associated with being white, or a part of the dominant group, that non-whites do not experience,” then yes I have benefited from white privilege. I don’t have to worry when I walk through my neighborhood that people are going to think that I want to rob them.
Peggy McIntosh says, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” Male versus female, white versus people of color are both examples of privilege, privilege that is a result of historical systems in place for many years. These privileges are social, political, and economic resulting from entrenched systems. The question that I am pondering is, what do I as a white, older man who is a college professor do about this?
First of all, I am going to educate myself on how people feel about this. I am going to read. I have purchased “The Myth of a Post Racial America,” by Roy Kaplan. I have purchased, “The New Entrepreneurs: How Race, Class and Gender Shape American Enterprise,” by Zulema Valdez and I am voraciously reading them. I want to know.
Second, I am going to talk to Blacks, Latinos, and whites about this issue. I want to know what people are really thinking and feeling about the subject of race and entrepreneurship. I want to prove that although Capitalism has been cited as a cause of racism, that Capitalism is not the culprit it is people and their use of the systems. I want to prove that our economic system is amoral and can be used to improve life for all people.
I think the biggest issue associated with this is the proper use of power. There are some who have power and there are others who don’t. So what is the proper use of power? Is it to enslave people to ensure your economic success, or is it the creation of systems that help people thrive? I will develop this more fully in a subsequent blog post.
I also think that as a Christian I need to address this issue. The colonization of the United States and exploitation of indigenous people is something that continues to fester. I will be thinking about this and discuss it later in my blog. However, I think this is enough for now.
These are my initial thoughts on the subject of white privilege. As a leader in my department and community I intend to make a difference with this subject. The only way this is going to really change is if we have the serious and difficult discussions. If we shutdown and not talk then we are not accomplishing anything. My eyes have been open, now I have a responsibility to do something with it.
And that is my thought for the day!