I haven’t published anything in months. My last post was my November, 2014 Chicago privilege epiphany/lament. Honestly, I’ve been heartbroken over the continuous race-related trauma going on in my city and our nation. I’m a big emotive feeler with a heart bent towards justice. Yet, I have not felt the right as a white person to write about my anguish over all of the exposed unjust racial trauma.
Oh, I’ve written. But all of my pontificating exposes on related urban scenarios seemed disconnected and unworthy to publish in light of all that’s transpired. Plus, I simply have too many friends reeling from pain in this ongoing race scenario. In no way did I want to diminish or distract from their lament.
In starting back at it, I’ve decided to share bridge-building thoughts around my diversity experiences for the people I’ve known the longest. My white-skinned friends and family, a blend of both business-oriented city dwellers and everyday small town good people. Many of whom feel helpless, or even baffled around comprehending what kind of hope-filled cultural change is needed in America.
You see, living in segregated Chicago for two decades, I’m coming to grips with the reality of racial disparity and heritage privilege. It’s been a journey of blindness transformation for me and I truly know I still have much to learn.
My beginnings were pretty much along typical dominant culture norms. I started life in Chicago like most other white people. I lived, worked and worshiped in a homogeneous white world. Primarily because it was all I knew. Then, I began transitioning into a lifestyle filled with intentional racial and socio-economic diversity.
Honestly, before I chose this diverse lifestyle, I had no idea what “systemic privilege” was. Nor that I had it! That still seems to be where many whites are also at today. If all you’ve ever experienced is a lifestyle within the dominant white social reality in America, how could you realistically comprehend the magnitude of injustice experienced by others who are not white? Reading history, viewing news reports, even twitter feeds can help with some rational knowledge documenting injustice. However, knowledge alone cannot enable anyone to truly understand the depth of others’ unjust experiences. How so many are treated differently in social contexts because of their skin color.
When our family chose to relocate into a neighborhood with both socio-economic and racial diversity, my lessons around this began dialing up. Our grade school years were predominately spent in very blended settings with families of Title I, 60% poverty-laden schools. That brought days when I felt like my dominant culture heritage blinders were being ripped off… my naïve white fragility exposed. The years included some very revealing and painful lessons around American childhood cultural norms and our human need for homogeneous setting comforts.
Then, this past year the dimension of these lessons catapulted even deeper. I got to experience all of the media-exposed race trauma through my friends of color perspectives. Along with that, my best friend’s unjust bust (my Nov. post).
Being real, outside of my chosen diverse life communities, I still find myself putting my blinders back on at times. Because I can. And honestly, it’s simply easier. I can get way more done in my bustling city if I’m not constantly looking out for others who might be treated unjustly. Plus, it’s hard for me to know what to do some days when I see so many differences in the ways people of color are treated.
I also find myself unable to craft the words to explain these two very different American experiences to many white friends. There seems to be no rational or logical way to unpack America’s deep heritage-formed unwritten social systems. To understand the great disparity between how those systems affect both white-skinned people and people of color. I believe this can only happen through intentional experience and/or the sharing of each others’ stories.
People are always changed by experiences. But, how does change happen through story telling? I’m not totally sure, other than it makes people stop and connect with their emotions and not just intellect. The telling of a personal experience begins to make each of our individual realities tangible and human. And, I believe deep down that most people are truly interested in unpacking their own heritage, having a deeper understanding in navigating life and helping to make the world a better place.
Human souls are built upon heritage, through lifestyles nurtured by previous generations. So, if together we can go back to our beginnings, exploring our own American narratives… well, just maybe we could begin understanding how our personal heritage is intertwined in America’s cultural unrest.
Could we start to see how many of us with Anglo heritage of 5th to 6th generation migrant lifestyles have come to live pretty comfortably? And, maybe realize how we’ve come to assume that our own perceived safety has allowed us to think that American law insures justice? After all, if you’ve never personally experienced too much injustice on your own street corner, it’s easy to assume your “normal” as being everyone else’s normal?
Reality is that America has a very plunder-oriented history, four centuries worth. Our roots are filled with choices not always honoring of the sanctity or equality of all human life. So, resetting our American trajectory and walking forward in solidarity with people of all colors begins with understanding what deeply held values need to be reset.
In 2015, it seems that the first story we all might need to better understand is our own.
If you are interested in walking this journey with me, here are some questions to ponder:
What was your parents or grandparents’ life like… how did their heritage mold you and your belief systems/lifestyle?
What’s good and what’s bad about your heritage… are there generational patterns you see that now affect your personal perspective around American systems relating to justice for people of color?
PS – My next post will enter into my personal conversations with my mom about how I was raised with racist ideals in my all white small town farm community in the 60’s & 70’s.