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June 04, 2020 08:43 AM UTC

Finding space to heal.

  • by: PKolbenschlag

I am racist.

All my life, as far back as I can remember, I was raised to not be a racist. And I am not a racist, but I am racist. I am racist because I was born a white man in America in 1964. I am racist because I am not dead, even though I spent a good deal of time in my youth – and today – poking at power, checking cops, being loud and visible. “Here I am, come challenge me.” But I am a white man and I have presumed that I have the privilege to question authority.

I was targeted, in the days my truck was covered in Grateful Dead, political, justice and peace stickers – or scrounging around with my posse after some shows – move along, move along, no you can’t come in here. And I have recently been targeted by a billionaire fracker who didn’t care for my snarky social media post (and activism). But I selected those roles. Because I was born a white man, and I have the privilege of choosing that.

“You clean up nice,” the grandmother said, after I had made quite the opposite impression the night before at the rehearsal dinner. Shaved, hair combed back, suited up I can pass as “respectable.” You see, I am a white man and the color of my skin is probably not the first impression I make. To many white folks such is often not the case with people of color, that often color is in fact the first thing we see.

Of course, I can’t speak for all people born white, or even very many. But I can speak to my own whiteness, and what I suspect and 55 years of living has confirmed, that most of us know about ourselves, as white folk, if we take a few minutes to look inside. What we have heard, what we have “learned,” what programming follows us around despite our stated, and best, intentions.

So I am not a racist, but I am racist. I carry this inside of me as part of White America. I had a cop pull his gun on me once, and it was startling. But I never feared he would shoot me dead. I just got back in my car and made sure my hands were on the wheel. Then I sat there and no one smashed my windows or tased me for it.

Now I sit here. And I want to have this talk. I want White America to look inside itself and be honest about what it finds. Like most dysfunction, our racist programming thrives when ignored or denied. But once we begin to watch for it and see it, to talk about it, to watch it bubble up, to see our privilege, to stop that tape in our head and play a different one, then we can begin to create a space to heal.

I think this is how we can not be a racist: by starting to see how we are racist.


3 thoughts on “Finding space to heal.

    1. Indeed. Petes’ straightforward message about privilege can easily be applied to male privilege. I grew up in the deep south in the 50s and 60s. The abject ugliness of racism was part of my environment. On the wall of my studio is a small snapshot of my brother and I, sitting in the lap of Georgia, our daily caregiver, during a period of time when I was about 4 or 5. Georgia was the prototypical “Aunt Jemima” in her appearance and her warmth and gracious loving. I learned, through love, to not BE a racist, while living in the midst of pervasive systemic, societal, racism.

      Fast forwarding a few years, I picked up a book entitled “Seduction is a Four Letter Word” by Germaine Greer. From that reading and others, and a young life watching the struggles of my mother, always battling the inequities of the workplace and at home, I began to understand. Visited upon her by a Christian, male, hierarchy that dominated our existence in that place and time, Mom withstood so much unfairness, but took great pride and solace in that none of her 4 children ever bought in to hate and privilege.

      It may have helped that we, my siblings and I, have Native American ancestors, though we do not show it. That knowledge, and connection to our native family members, probably influenced our relationship to all minorities.

      The advantages of being white by appearance have been available to me since childhood. I understand, Pete. Thanks for saying things that need to be said.  

      1. Yep …

        I've not read something so discouraging for a long, LONG time. It is from the Colorado Sun: 

        Greg Moore: Police and black folks — the swagger and disrespect must end The former Editor of The Denver Post writes: “I don’t hate cops. I fear them.”

        He begins "I’m a 65-year-old black man, and I have literally spent most of my life doing everything possible to avoid encounters with police."

        I'm slightly younger … and I can only remember a few hours — certainly less than 200 — when I was doing much of anything to avoid an encounter with police.  And in ALL of those hours, I was very, VERY conscious that what I was doing could create an interaction with police.  As best I recall, I've had as many traffic citations as formal warnings, and more than both combined have been allowed to go on my way without only a verbal caution.  Every time, I was certain the interaction at worst would involve a traffic citation or arrest.  I never considered interaction with police could be dangerous.

        I have so many privileges — and realize I've not done enough to make certain my society will grant others those same privileges as rights.

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