So I know, I haven’t been on here for a while. I tend to go through spurts, so for the readers that hang in there through my dry-spells I appreciate your support. It may get even more sketchy here in a few months as N and Boo and D and I are expecting to add another member to the family next Summer.
But today I want to relate something else, relating to the controversy at Mizzou. Having grown up in the area, I am not at all surprised by the concerns the minority students raised about racism. Not being minority myself I get to experience a level of comfort granted to me simply by being a white male. But I remember vividly as a teenager listening to two other white young men talking in the bathroom at school about going to beat up “that uppity nigger” after class. I remember too that there was a right side and wrong side “of the tracks” to live on based on your race, without anyone having to say it. And this was in the late 90’s. Not all that long ago really.
I remember too, when D was about 7 or 8, we were in line at a Wal-Mart near down-town KC. It happens to be the Wal-Mart on that side of town, that is most frequented by minorities and is staffed mostly by minorities. The cashier was taking forever to get through the line, chatting with all the customers and I was in a hurry to leave so I switched lanes without really thinking anything about it. D, with the honesty that comes from children, piped up and asked me if we had switched lanes because the cashier was black.
Now… I have grown up with friends of color. I am fairly sure that I am not racist in what I do or say, nor is my family. That being said, I was shocked by D’s statement and observation. The cashier taking forever was in fact an older black lady who enjoyed visiting with each of her customers. And had I not been in a rush to leave I probably would have stayed in line. But the new cashier, who was moving through her line at a fast pace was white. Growing up attending urban schools with minority students (way more than I ever had in my classes growing up), D still sensed/knew there was something unequal about our skin tones even though I had tried to make sure he grew up with a respect for all persons. It was one of many times over the years I have had to re-evaluate what I thought I knew about race and privilege and the state of our country today.
So, back to Mizzou and the present day.
I was talking with a friend about the controversy surrounding the campus when they mentioned something that struck me. The friend mentioned that they thought it was “ironic” that the black student doing the hunger strike that kicked off the protests had called the (mostly) white administration privileged when he himself comes from a family who apparently makes millions. The friend couldn’t understand how this student could claim to be un-privileged simply because they were rich. We engaged in a friendly, and I hope insightful, discussion where one of the points I made was that the whole point of privilege is how we look/think about it.
As a white guy, I can afford to think of privilege in terms of money because I don’t have to worry about being pulled over for being black, or worry about being followed in the store because I’m black, or being denied a job because of my race. For me privilege can be a fairly straightforward thing. But minorities don’t have that luxury. For them, insofar as a white guy with no sociology training can assume so for that I’m sorry, privilege is much more multi-layered. It involves equal opportunities that I simply don’t have to worry about and equal access to things that I just get through no action on my part.
However, this leads to another point and I think, the most relevant one. When we talk about race and privilege it becomes easy for us to talk past each other. In speaking with my friend, I realized that what they were talking about when it came to privilege in no way really resembled what the student was talking about. It made me wonder how often that happens in our conversations to each other.
I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know how soon things will get better. But I believe that what the students at Mizzou did was necessary and I know we have to keep trying, to talk, to raise awareness… if we stop talking about race the way some people want, then like an open wound, it will just scab over without really healing. We have to get past and through the muck and mess and hurt that has built up over generations and we can only do that by continuing to talk to and with each other. Sometimes in conversations, sometimes in protests.
Just remember to be patient with each other and that in the end, things CAN improve. For all of us.