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This is important enough for me to say out loud in this crowded room.

I'm 50. I'm a white male.

Still, I'm also liberal. I live in a predominantly black neighborhood. My wife coaches a girl's softball team where the kids are almost all African American. We've had to confront racism from other teams.

...Yet, it was not until now -- not even after watching the drama unfolding from the murder of Michael Brown, staying up until 3AM nightly watching events unfold. No, not until carefully listening to Van Jones late last night speak of the subconscious nature of racism and then finally listening to actor and activist Jesse Williams that I finally get it. How ironic this should happen while I sit in a hotel room five miles from Ferguson. It must be in the air.

I get it. I am sorry.

Indeed, I now know that my white privilege does not require anything from me for it to exist. No matter where my heart is, whether it be colored in hate or exalted in equality, my white privilege is there. I now understand I was born with it.

Yet, born with it, I cannot thus owe an apology for it; I had no role in the womb in its cultural persistence. What I do owe is an apology for not recognizing it fully, not understanding completely enough to leverage that understanding to forcefully argue for affirmative action.
I owe an apology for thinking it something I could reject if I wanted to. I cannot, because, as an American white person, it emits from my skin -- a cultural pheromone traveling at the literal speed of light. I walk into a convenience store late at night where a lone cashier awaits and my white privilege manifests as a sigh of relief the cashier. When my path crosses with a cop, my white privilege cloaks me in near invisibility; I pose no threat.

I get it. I am sorry.

Because, when I was blind to it, it is all too easy to think affirmative action is not needed. Not being wakeful to the reality of white privilege, a 21st century white male instead sees only the unfairness to him; he does not want to "lose" a job opportunity to a black person if his skill set is equal. The slaves were made free generations before he was born, after all. Why is he -- me, I -- being "discriminated" against?

I get it. I am sorry.

I now understand that -- like the existence of 'good' by definition and mere measurement requires the existence of 'evil' -- affirmative action MUST exist where white privilege exists. There must be affirmative action; we must visibly hack the fossilized cultural grain of white privilege, if only as our feeble attempt to tell our black brothers and sisters we recognize the inherent unfairness and unsheddable nature of our own privilege.

I get it. I am sorry.

Originally posted to Patrick Leary, aka pajoly on Wed Aug 20, 2014 at 05:58 PM PDT.

Also republished by White Privilege Working Group and Barriers and Bridges.

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