The protests that have rocked America after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery , Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks have prompted some of white America to do some soul searching and ask “What can I do?”
Shift in Attitude
Big news: 76 percent of Americans now say racial discrimination in the US is a big problem, up from 51 percent in 2015. And public support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much in the past two weeks as it did in the previous two years, according to the New York Times.
White America is looking to understand racism. While I see that Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility is now being widely read, I have found Peggy McIntosh’s thoughts more helpful.
In 1989, McIntosh wrote “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.” I find McIntosh’s juxtaposition between male privilege and white privilege sheds a great deal of light on the privilege, the power and the dominance that whites have in interactions; our sense of entitlement; how oblivious we can be.
“It isn’t my problem”
Obliviousness, an attitude of “It isn’t my problem” is what Peggy McIntosh saw at the core of male privilege and at the core of white privilege. I believe this attitude of “it isn’t my problem” is what lies at the heart of what we, the privileged, must take ownership of and take responsibility to see that things change.
Seeing our role in the world
How do we change the attitudes and actions that impact others? First step is an attitude shift or consciousness-raising – conscientização as Paulo Freire called it: recognizing our role in the world around us, and then changing things both little and large.
Ernst Owens in his article in Philadelphia Magazine, “White People, Please Stop Declaring Yourself Allies,” clearly nailed whites’ role: “Racism is a white person’s problem to solve….While racism harms Black and brown people directly, it is caused solely by white people’s actions and cultural influence. These routine abuses, which have been instituted and normalized by white people over hundreds of years, have produced slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, redlining, voter suppression, police brutality, gaps in education and wealth, and numerous other human rights violations.”
“White silence is violence”
Owens continues, “If we are to seriously combat racism, we need to be brutally honest about how white people should conduct themselves in this fight. For starters, we need to do away with the expected pats on the back, fancy labels and symbolic gestures. Too many Black lives have been lost by the silence and complicity of “well-meaning white people” who …are guilty of looking the other way. You don’t get credit for showing up 400 years late and now suddenly giving a damn because you’re finally fed up. The option to care or not is the very definition of white privilege.”
Ernst Owens is making the same point as Peggy McIntosh but even more strongly: that privilege is this dismissive attitude of “It isn’t my problem”.
So first step is a shift in attitude. Watch for blogs and articles outlining action steps.