To See, Change, and Unlearn: Confronting My White Privilege

In therapy, I was taught that the key to effective communication is through “I” statements. They are meant to relate the speaker’s needs and/or feelings to the listener, as opposed “you” statements, which are usually accusatory, blaming, and contain negative attributions about the listener.

Whites/people in positions of power have a long history of using “I” statements when communicating with minorities, but not in a therapeutic manner. “I need you to listen to me/do what I say/talk this way/behave this way.” And the “you” statements…oh, yes…the “you” statements. They continue to spew like spit off the lips of the ignorant and the hate-filled. As a nation, we really suck at communication with minority groups in general, and particularly people of color.

In the last ten days, I’ve heard a lot of well-intentioned white people using a lot of “I” statements, asserting their needs and feelings about the death of George Floyd, Amy Cooper’s ridiculous actions in Central Park, and, of course (and perhaps especially), the protests, riots, and looting. Mostly, they want people of color to know that they aren’t like those police officers. They aren’t like Central Park Karen. “I need you to understand that I have black friends, I had a black doll when I was a child, I work with black people…” and on and on, and people of color roll their eyes because they’re used to hearing how good we think we are, how we “get” it, when really, do we?

It was Breonna Taylor’s murder on March 13 that brought me back to the table, and by table I mean the place of learning about racism and white supremacy and acknowledging my role in it. It’s a table I never should have left, but because I am not a person of color, I have the privilege of forgetting about that table because I don’t live every day having to prove myself worthy of health care, justice, housing, or even my life because of the color of my skin.

I’ve learned more in the last three months by shutting up, listening, and reading than I ever would have defending myself with my personal experiences with the black community, and the only “I” statement I want to offer to people of color right now is: I was wrong. My silence equals complicity, and I am sorry.

My intention, when I speak of race, especially with people of color, is to be mindful of “I” statements that seek to assert my need for others to understand me. Instead, I will ask questions like “How can I…(help, participate)”, “What do you need me to…(understand, change)”, “Where can I…(donate, volunteer)” and “Who should I…(contact, read)”. I want to change what I didn’t know I needed to change, to see what I didn’t know was inside me to see, and to unlearn what my comfortable privilege has taught me.

A helpful resource for me has been the 1619 Project: “It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

A friend shared this resource today from Smithsonian Magazine, “158 Resources to Understand Racism in America.” I’ve only had a chance to read through it briefly, but links to the resources and articles are embedded in the chapters: Historical Context, Systemic Inequality, Anti-Black Violence, Protest, Intersectionality, and Allyship and Education.

Today is Breonna Taylor’s birthday. She would have been 27. If you’re interested in donating money to her family’s Go Fund Me account, click here.

Please, join the table. Stay. Don’t leave like I did. I truly believe we are on the brink of positive change in this country. It’s been messy and violent, and it will most likely get messier, but please, please, don’t give up.

Hope is our only Hope

A disclaimer before I begin: As many of you know, I don’t usually write publicly about politics generally or about my political ideology specifically. Politics, especially in recent years, can be so divisive, and I truly believe we have way more in common than not, so I focus my writing mainly on common grounds rather than what could trigger irreparable divisions. But you also know, especially long-time readers, that when I feel strongly about something, I will say it and share it (and I never expect you to fall in line with my way of thinking), and right now, I really want to say and share my feelings about the current political climate.

Yesterday, after coming home from a one-night stay in downtown Youngstown (Ohio), I was pumped to write about how much fun I had spending time with my daughter, Carlene, and meeting comedian Brent Terhune. Then I heard that Pete Buttigieg was ending his bid for the Democratic nomination for President and I got stabby. I even cried. No politician has made me cry before. Well, at least not sad tears. I shed plenty of angry tears in November 2016.

I first learned of Pete early last year in an interview with Joshua Johnson (@jejohnson322) on the NPR show the 1A. I was not only impressed with what he said, but how he said it. Hands down, Pete is/was the most articulate and composed candidate, and he is a helluva debater, and his was the first political campaign I’d ever supported financially.

Openly gay and proud to be married to his husband, Chasten, Pete (and Chasten) restored my faith that kindness can exist in politics, that it must exist in politics. Hearing he’d dropped out made me feel so…lost. I’m not mad; I understand why he did it, and I support his decision. But I will miss his voice, his calm, his intelligence, his hope, and his vision of a united America. The paranoid, deceitful, and hate-filled America that has emerged in four years has left so many people marginalized, afraid, unheard, and – at least in my case – dumbfounded that that truth is almost always usurped by lies and that so few people seem to care. Pete’s message of hope gave me hope that one day, truth, genuine care for people, and common sense could reside in the White House.

I’m tired of angry. I’m tired of the shouting. I’m tired of the finger-pointing. I’m tired of the lying. I’m tired of old.

What Pete’s campaign did was to encourage our country to find its conscience again. We live in a capitalistic, democratic country, I get that. But how about those currently in power stop supporting racist rhetoric or rhetoricians and separating families who are seeking asylum? Stop voter suppression and allowing people to die because they can’t afford life-saving medicine? Start acknowledging that climate change is happening, and fast? That’s not socialism. That’s just plain morally right.

Political power is not the be all and end all in life. Death will come whether we have $$$$$, power, or a high horse. We have a responsibility to each other in life, despite of ideology, and I hope Pete’s message of hope is reflected at the polls in November.