In my younger and more vulnerable years, as I met the major milestones in my life – college matriculation and graduation, first automobile, first real job, graduate degree, second real job, first new automobile, first home, second home – I realized how blessed I was to have such good fortune. Sure, I knew that I had worked hard for these rewards. After all, I had followed the principles outlined in the Protestant Work Ethic. But I felt that something more – fate, the hand of God, karma, 2 summers as a stellar church camp counselor, something else – had directed me down the road to success. But white privilege? Didn’t give it a thought. Not in my vocabulary.
And then I joined People’s Church. And I participated in a series of presentations on white supremacy culture. And I joined a Chalice Circle, to learn how to listen deeply. And I listened to Reverend Rachel’s sermons. And joined the Antiracism Discussion Group. And learned from the life experiences of members of the congregation – and their reading suggestions.
These suggestions have led me to authors and topics I never would have chosen on my own. Not because I purposefully avoided them, but because I was ignorant of their existence. I was aware of the events discussed in high school history classes – how slaves were brought from Africa, that the manifest destiny of white Europeans led to the defeat and displacement of indigenous people, that there was a war fought over slavery (“Gone With the Wind” was proof of that), the maltreatment of Blacks during the Jim Crow era, of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. And more currently the police violence from which the Black Lives Matter movement arose.
The history of People of Color in this country felt outside my personal experience. And therefore, not relevant to me. Until I realized that I and my ancestors had been complicit in a history of systemic racism and upholding racist institutions by maintaining, without real though or questioning, our white privilege. I had met the major milestones of my life by participating in a society that purposefully denied People of Color the opportunity to achieve those or similar milestones. I feel humbled by this realization and emboldened by Nikole Hannah-Jones’ challenge: “If justice and equality are ever to be achieved in the United States, the country must finally take seriously what it owes Black Americans… A truly great country does not ignore or excuse its sins. It confronts them and then works to make them right.” I join in that work and invite you to join me by participating in People’s Antiracism Discussion Group.