Diversity & my white privileged self
This season of life has been about integrating diversity in deeper friendships within my community and organizations. Last weekend I had a board meeting with a faith-based group founded around prayer for teachers and schools. I chose this group because I firmly believe in the power of prayer. Our board is diverse and I believe that diversity in America’s public schools has the capability to both contribute and foster principled pluralism within our children. That means living and doing life with others not like you… creating harmonious community through honor, understanding and grace amidst our diversity. Kids can learn these life skills along with college ready academics in a blended school community. Well, if they are mentored to do so.
This particular morning I will own that I was not happy about having to take the el train to the far south side of our city for this meeting. Public transportation was my go-to transport means as my family needed to use our car. A Dunkin Donuts was picked for our gathering, as our org leader wanted to use up some leftover gift cards from an event. Honestly, I would have rather paid her for the gift cards and taken the train half the distance to a spot originally scheduled. It would have been much easier and less time… well, for me that is.
I knew part of what I was battling was my selfishness… in part, my entitlement in wanting to control things and for them to go my way. A way that is easier for me and my white dominant culture style on the north side of the city. You see, many of us get used to both having and wanting things our own way. As a white, being the socially favored majority race in our culture becomes normal in ways you cannot even comprehend until you are awakened by exposure. Only because I have pushed myself to stretch into understanding stories of others not like me has this become very apparent. Before, I could stay on my side of town and make things happen in my comfort zone, my way. However, committing to both ethnic and socio-economic diversity in my community lifestyle and friendships has allowed me to see the reality of privilege from a whole different perspective.
Dreading this 2 hour el ride, I also knew I would be the only white person on the train past the halfway stop. Honestly, even with my commitment, some days I just don’t want to be the white minority in a predominately black public space. As a white person, it is a choice. After 20 years living in my segregated city, I am keenly aware of that. It is not a choice that brown or black people freely have. Growing up, I was also taught to fear blacks, just as my African American org leader was socially taught not to trust whites. We talk deeply about these issues and know that bigger, deeper conversations and reconciliation strategy is still needed to heal America’s heartbreaking, gaping wounds around all of this.
I forced myself to get to the train… I love the friend who founded this organization. She’s one of my BFFs, best friend forever (not to be confused with an OBF, only black friend). I got on the el out of loyalty to her and the commitment I made to the org she founded. And, it was pretty much what I thought – only 2.5 hours! When el tracks are under construction, you have to take shuttles. As luck would have it, part of the line I needed was under repair. I spent 20 minutes just trying to find the shuttle bus, as the station was chaos with few attendants. Though, I eventually made my transfer and arrived at my destination… very late.
To my surprise, our leader was not at there. I began catching up with the other board members when our treasurer received a call. She chatted, hung up, then said she had to go pick up our leader. You see, our friend had started out, had a flat tire, then went home to get a 2nd car. While she started back, she called on her speaker phone to tell us she was running late. Police pulled her over for that and she also discovered her driver’s license had expired last month on her 40th birthday. So, the police handcuffed her, forced her into the back of the squad car and called 2 other squad cars for back up. They then made her abandon her car and took her in cuffs to their station to book her. Now, this is a woman who is a dedicated public school teacher, runs our faith-based prayer-focused organization and is also one of the strongest God-fearing black women I know.
But, that’s just it. As a white woman, I have never experienced anything like that, nor have I seen that happen to any other white people in my city. However, over 20 years in my city, I have seen it happen to black people too many times to count! It confirms for me that as a white person, I have privilege within a constructed social and legal system in my city that gives me more freedom and advantage than people of color. I see it, experience it, know it… it is not a perception!
I felt ashamed for my earlier entitlement feelings and even sadder for what my friend had to endure. She was publicly shamed and totally humiliated. Yet, this is reality for people of color in America and my Chicago hometown, even today.
IT IS NOT RIGHT… so, I will continue persevering on this journey. I will do my best to own and unpack my white privilege and the ugly part of America’s heritage that has both promoted and still allows systemic injustice. And, I will see how God moves me further down the road in understanding. It is rarely comfortable; but, it is my calling. I am committed to press on and engage in healing conversations. I will keep learning how to stand for LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.