Off and on, I've been exposed to the concepts of white racism or white privilege. That is, people try to teach me about it, and I do
try to learn, although I fear that I'm a dull and slow student. This all began many years ago when I met a man named Horace Seldon
while jogging around Lake Quannapowitt in the next town over from us. Horace, an ordained UCC pastor, has dedicated his life to the cause of educating his fellow white people regarding the special privileges we have by dint of our skin color. More recently, we had a study group in town over the book written by a local author, two towns over in the other direction, Debby Irving. Her book, Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race
. In between, I've been trying to understand racial issues by reading African American authors like Walter Mosley and Ta-Nehisi Coates. My friend, Michael, recommended this book, and I cued it up.
This book is ever so much better than Ms. Irving's. For one thing, it provides a much better introduction for beginners to read about and to begin to understand the subtle issues of racism. I think part of this is that Mr. Wise grew up in modest circumstances, so his white privilege wasn't augmented by an additional layer of country-club privilege. I'm not sure Ms. Irving understood that augmented privilege she had. So, some of her arguments fell flat because those of us not born to the country club could see that some of the advantages she was experiencing weren't about whiteness so much as being born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Of course, being able to be part of the country-club set is also very much about being white, unless you might be O.J. Simpson.
Anyway, much of the advantage our skin color (or perhaps lack of it) provides us has to do with expectations and opportunities. We white folks, don't have anyone look at us strangely like perhaps we're not qualified, before we even open our mouths. Rather, we're assumed qualified until we prove we're not. This is not the case with people of color, who must find ways to prove their worthiness before they are deemed qualified. We white folks never have to worry that politicians will structure voting rights so that we are disadvantaged with respect to people of color. Not so people of color. Within a week or so after the Roberts Supreme Court overturned the voting rights act, people in some states, like North Carolina and Texas were falling all over themselves to find insidious ways to deny voting rights to people of color. Yes, a few poor whites got caught in the cross fire, so to speak, but the bills were specifically designed primarily to deny the vote to people of color. Some of us white folks complain about affirmative action plans which guarantee a few seats for people of color in our universities, but don't even blink at the white affirmative action going on with "legacy admissions", which overwhelmingly accrue to white folks.
And so, the beat goes on. The first step to mitigating the problem of racism is to recognize it. This book is a good beginning. The solution to racism isn't just to pretend it's gone the way the Klu Klux Clan (which a recent Presidential candidate has helped regain traction in our society), but to recognize when we are obtaining privileges other people are not, and to get us to work to level the playing field for all.