What It Means To Be White

My son’s are 2 and 3 at the moment. Neither of them are aware of Fergusonthe Eric Garner casethe horrible incidences of police violence against and apparent murder of African Americans the event that has taken the lives of 9 American’s in a church praying, and for now that’s fine. I’m in a position to never have to discuss race with my kids. Both I and them are white middle class male’s in America. If we ever hope to end the constant cycle of tragedies, both of the acute variety and of the overarching sort that allows entire lives with potential that could solve many of the worlds problems to play out in despair, white dads who hope to change this have to begin to speak to our white kids, especially sons, about the truth of our lives. At present it certainly feels like the world we inhabit will offer endless opportunities to us for discussing the unusual brutality and the common inequality that we choose to explain away rather than to resolve.

Life is hard. Even for white guys with jobs. And my kids will surely be angry at times about how much they don’t have. This may blind them to what they do have. When I see this I intend to address it directly and to discuss with them the following realities as far as I see them.

  • Be aware that you have lived life free of being assessed negatively on sight. This is a distinct and ever present advantage you have over your counterparts of other demographic distinctions. This is the result of constant systemic disadvantages that have nothing to do with them. But over time, to have the world look at you like this, in every situation and at all times can be crushing and formative at the same time. Greet anger with empathy whenever you can.
  • Be conscious of the fact that your successes are not solely yours. They are the result of a thousand factors, mostly beyond your control and benefiting you in ways that may have cost someone of a different background access to the opportunities that you may think you accomplished free of bias. You are white, male, American and as a bonus, you’re in all likelihood, tall. All of these factors have helped you. A lot. And unfairly.
  • If the world changes for the better it may be uncomfortable for you. Don’t whine about that. You’re still likely to have systemic advantages, just, hopefully, not as many.
  • Be intentional about inclusiveness. Some might suggest that a meritocracy is the only fair option. In my opinion they are invested in the status quo in which they, and you, are afforded distinct advantages not easily seen by you, but evident to the many people not similarly fortunate.
  • Our country’s original sin of slavery created a false economic reality based on dehumanizing people, crumbling their self-worth and codifying their inequality. To this day you have housing laws, drug laws, educational funding laws and even voting laws that SEEK to continue to segregate people from the opportunities that have been protected for us. We have a long way to go to truly level the playing field. Like I said above, if things are harder for you, they should be. You have a massive Karmic debt to pay, one not of your specific making, but you are the rightful inheritor. And not just to black men or men of other backgrounds, but also to ALL women. I’m paying a piece of it now, but mostly I’m still benefiting from a world that favors me. To wit..
  • The world tilts toward you. Be proud of what successes your life brings. Hard work is still hard work and what you have earned you should respect. Try to create opportunities that will empower. Distribute those opportunities to people that aren’t reflections of yourself. As you would find in any distribution, some people will disappoint and some will surprise, but either way, its just right to try to repay some of the favor the world shows you.
  • Don’t be afraid of people who appear ‘different’ from you. Try instead to be curious. You’re likely to find they are just like you in what they want from life. They want security and friendship and to laugh and to provide and to feel good about themselves. But sometimes life is so insistent that these are not attainable (a problem you won’t have to deal with in any real way) that we can see only people’s defenses and armor and forget that they are whole beings needing of what it is we all need. Life reinforces for them in a way you can’t fully understand, that they are suspect, feared and not to be trusted or loved. This can have tragic consequences. Much more often the outcome is remarkable and beautiful and truly inspiring evidence of the human spirits ability to endure and prosper. All too often the world ignores these outcomes to fit a narrative that reinforces fear of differences, no matter how small. Don’t buy it.
  • Be part of the solution. I don’t know what that means yet. I hope my life will be assessed in such a way that you will be proud of the person I am. I KNOW I’m still the beneficiary of discriminatory policy. But keep looking, keep trying and never forget to be thankful for all that life has afforded you.

The debate in the media aside, for whatever tragedy of the moment we are dissecting when i get to these conversations, I hope I’m able to keep my head unburied and hope they find themselves in a world changing to meet our highest ideals. I know I’ll discuss them forthrightly and encourage them not to be too self-pitying when life is hard or unfair. Truth is however unfair it is to me or them, and we all will face cruel misfortune from time to time, the odds make it likely that they will have it good.

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