Skip to main content

Most of my diaries are pontifications...me telling you (dear reader) what I think you should think, or do, or how someone somewhere is doing it all wrong fer chrissake.

This, however, is not one of those diaries. This time...and maybe only just this once...I want you to tell me a thing or two.

The modern dialog monologue regarding white privilege has fallen on receptive ears here. My lifelong commitment to civil rights (unwittingly sowed by a father who was a vile racist and xenophobe) was based almost exclusively on moral grounds (we really are all children of God, goddamit, and damn well need to act like it). But until perhaps two years ago it was never a particularly introspective position -- I never really stopped to see how I, personally, fit into the bigger picture of endemic institutional racism throughout the world. But now, slowly, I'm beginning to get it.

In a way this is pretty ironic, as my own grandparents were themselves victims of (and ultimately crushed by) institutional xenophobia, from the moment they shuffled, coughing and covered in weeping sores, out of steerage and onto Ellis Island with little more than an onion and a stub of sausage between them. Their names were taken from them (and with that, all hope of my ever knowing who my ancestors were). Their culture (what little of it they might have had, beyond Christianity and a reverence for the next cabbage to grace their plates) was similarly stripped away. And then they were fed into the maw of the machine: one of my grandfathers died of black lung in the coal mines, the other a broken, penniless drunk, and both of my grandmothers eked out ragged lives as washerwomen, always on the edge of starvation or homelessness. And yet, they had one precious advantage they were never even aware of as such -- a privilege they were able to hand down to their children, and their children's children, and which insured that my own life would be so much better than theirs: their skins were white. Their children were able to cast off their parents' own Mark of Cain -- thick incomprehensible language full of Zs and strange, curlicued consonants in endless parade -- learn unaccented simple English, and blend in among the native-born. Today, no one would look at me and think other than "there goes a reg'lar good ole boy."

Life -- lived properly, anyway -- is a voyage of discovery, and mine perhaps more than most. In 1965 my childhood innocence abruptly came to an end when I discovered a war waged by my country half a world away, where crusaders in my name were melting innocent children with napalm and stealing their limbs with bomblets that looked like toys, leveling villages in the act of 'saving' them, carpet-bombing a nation from a safe 30,000 feet up, and spraying millions of gallons of toxins over vast swaths of jungle.

Revolted, I revolted; over the next decade my life would be largely defined by my own small actions against the war which, like one tiny trickle joining many others to form a stream, and then a river, and finally an ocean's crashing waves, battered away at the imposing cliffs of war and finally (but, God I'm sorry, far too late!) brought them tumbling down. I took more than a few lumps (both figurative and literal), did some time, clocked more hours under interrogation than I care to recall, and put the 'normal' course of my life's development on indefinite hold. Don't misunderstand, though: it wasn't a sacrifice by any means. I was becoming the person God created me to be. But had my skin been any color other than white, it more than likely would have been a grave sacrifice. Like as not, some of the shit I pulled back then would have been met with either a bullet or a crowd of steel-toed head-kicking boots and battering rifle butts. I didn't realize it then, but even in rebellion my pale skin was my impenetrable shining armor.

It is damn hard to sustain that level of intensity for a lifetime (nor, I would argue, should one even try; rebellion is a young man's game). I certainly didn't. I talked my way into a state college (without benefit of a high school diploma, my white skin working its magic yet again), collected a passel of degrees, did some pretty good science, earned a prestigious position at a leading university (a liberal white faculty surrounded by a sea of black poverty), married my best friend (with her fatherless child in her arms), had another kid, found them good, safe (and, of course, lily-white) public schools, and saw them safely through college. Along the way I became disgusted with the pointless, self-absorbed life of the academic (this academic, anyway), went into commerce, worked my way up through that industry (again playing my white-skin ticket), built a company of my own, cashed out, and moved to the soul-healing quiet of a horse farm (surrounded by white Southern Baptist neighbors who warned me not to go down into the city after dark because nigras).

Just as all politics are local, so too all civil rights are personal. As a professor I found myself quite naturally taking to the few outnumbered, awkward, silent students of color in my courses, taking the best of them under my wing and managing to help get a couple of them into the best professional schools. As a business executive it was pointed out to me more than once by HR that I seemed to be unusually inclined to fill open positions with people of color, and women of color at that. This was always said in a congratulatory tone (helping the company post good statistics), but I always had the feeling there was quite another sentiment entirely buried deep beneath those comments. None of this was anything like a sacrifice on my part. It all made me feel quite good about myself.

Today, in my peaceful semi-retirement, I find myself devoting more and more of my free time to political causes again. I'm a regular at Moral Mondays rallies here in North Carolina (remembering, as I do, how much it heartened me in my youth to see the occasional old person marching in anti-war demonstrations, how their mere presence seemed to magically shield us youngsters around them from the worst of the police brutality). I donate more than I probably should to young, promising progressive political candidates, and to progressive causes. I don't ring doorbells or stand around on sidewalks registering voters...I wish I could, but that's just not my style. I publish diaries here at DKos that I hope will touch others (like this one I'm particularly proud of, and which brings a tear to my eye every time I revisit it).

In church, in my work, and in the community, I refuse to stand silently by in the face of misogyny, homophobia, or racism. I open my mouth and call others on their assholery when I witness it. And, increasingly, in private at least I call myself on my own, as well.

And yet, it just doesn't feel like enough. Not nearly enough. Don't misunderstand me: I'm not riddled with some kind of white guilt. Like anyone else, I'll play most every advantage available to me (although I do draw the line at screwing others). But I am increasingly weighed down by the awareness of how undeservedly blessed I have been, and how, in dutifully passing those undeserved blessings on to my children, I have quite unintentionally reinforced that legacy of privilege. I want to do something more, something personal (which giving money, however important it may be, is not)...but I honestly can't think what.

So, like the title says: White? Check. Privileged? Check. So now what? Help me out here.

Originally posted to DocDawg on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 08:42 AM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, White Privilege Working Group, and Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site