Having grown up in Jackson County in the '50s and '60s, I was raised to respect all people. However, I never had an opportunity to meet or interact with people of color until I went to college in Cedar Rapids. Even then, my life was sheltered from the outside world. After college, I moved back to Jackson County and later to Delaware County where I was again part of predominantly white communities.
And it’s true — our perception of reality depends on what we experience.
It wasn’t until I took a position with the City of Dubuque in 2005 that I really had opportunities to meet and interact with people of color. It was then that I first heard the term “white privilege.”
My initial response was that my life was really not privileged. I had struggles and challenges in my life, but as I visited with some of my brown and Black peers, I began to realize that many of their struggles, challenges and injustices are based solely on the color of their skin. In many cases, they fear daily for their safety.
Some of these Black men found me worthy to be their friend. They helped me to better understand what it is like to be Black. Prior to these conversations, I really hadn’t considered myself to have privilege, but it soon became obvious that I had lived and worked in a bubble of white privilege conferred upon me at birth. I cannot speak authentically of the Black experience since I have not lived it.
I cannot talk about it without misrepresenting the Black experience because I live in a world of white privilege.
But I am making an effort to learn. The more we talk to each other, the more I learn.
Recognizing my white privilege is the first step. I am now trying to learn more about racial inequalities in our society by reading articles and books related to this issue.
Books such as Just Mercy, The Hate U Give, The New Jim Crow, Picking Cotton and Waking up White are just a few to get me started.
For me, the pain of racism has become even more personal.
Fourteen years ago, my daughter gave birth to her bi-racial son. My beautiful baby grandson is now a handsome Black teenager who is beloved by our family.
When I watch or read about racist acts, my heart sinks, and my eyes well up with tears. How can we, as a society, let these racial injustices continue? What lies ahead for him as he navigates this world where his skin color determines his future?
Unpacking white privilege starts with me exploring how my own unconscious biases impact my view of Black people. My work starts with me acknowledging that I have privileges that my Black friends and family do not, and I am forced to see racial inequality for what it is. I challenge each of us to use our privilege to inform ourselves and to speak up, as well as, vote against hatred and inequality. Now is the time to do the right thing. We can learn from each other by collectively talking about and addressing systemic racism, bias, and hate. We can work to promote a system of racial equality where every person in our society is treated fairly.