Special note: The Inner Excellence competitive mindset is this: I compete to raise the level of excellence in my life, to learn and grow, in order to raise it in others. In these extraordinary times—especially this past week—we have many opportunities to learn and grow and raise the level of excellence in our lives. A big part of raising the level of excellence in my life is developing self-awareness, which is very hard for things that are invisible yet beneficial to me. I pray this article will help you grow—especially if you’re a white, middle-class American male.
- I’ve always thought of myself as a loving, compassionate person—to all races; an ally.
- I’ve realized this week I’ve been wearing white privilege like a backpack, using it freely and often, with no idea that it fit a person like me so well.
- The #1 thing you can do as a white person in America is educate yourself on privilege and the history of systemic racism in America.
“I have reached the inevitable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the KKK, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
For most of my life, I’ve been the “Negro’s great stumbling block” and not known it. I used to think that there’s racists (e.g. people mean to ethnic groups) and non-racists (nice people), and I was one of the good guys. What I didn’t know, is that privilege and racism are not binary, simply black and white. It’s much more nuanced.
My sister Naomi cannot walk and has so many pains and problems that I can’t imagine. I have able-bodied privilege that I’ve always taken advantage of: I don’t have to consider if there will be handicapped parking or accessible bathrooms or ramps or so many things I’ve taken for granted. The world I live in is not built for people like my sister; it’s built for people like me.
Years ago a female friend told me she didn’t listen to music or audiobooks on the skytrain because she was concerned about her physical safety (not being able to hear would diminish that safety). That thought had never occurred to me.
When I played in the Chicago Cubs organization, two of my dark-skinned teammates that were sitting with me in a McDonald’s were taken outside and told they were “too disruptive.” Why didn’t they take me?
If I enjoy unearned, invisible benefits that another group in my culture does not, and that group is hurt (or killed) by not having those benefits, then I am part of the problem if I do nothing about it.
So yes, I have been the white moderate who Dr. King decreed was the great stumbling block. I’ve been enjoying invisible privileges my whole life. I simply never thought about my safety when going for a run or getting pulled over by the police, and never thought about educating my nieces and nephews about systemic racism for their daily physical protection. I saw no need, because I live in a system that caters to me but deeply disregards others, especially the black community. I just never thought about it. This is the problem.
Thank you for your patience with me. I am an uneducated (on this topic), white privileged half-Japanese, half-Irish/German Canadian/American that is really just starting his journey to understanding a little more about privilege and the history of systemic racism in America.
As Dr. Boyd shared with us in his inspiring and educational talk below, when Europeans first came over to colonize America, it was assumed white people were superior. “We’re founded on white supremacy, by whites and for whites. Nothing structural is going to change until a sufficient number of white people want it to change.” I want it to change. I’m going to start by educating myself and I’d love to learn with you. I have so much to learn but I’m excited I get to do it with you.
Please share with me things you’ve found helpful, that will help me raise the level of excellence in my life, so I can develop more self-awareness and help others do the same.
I put together some resources for you:
Five things we can do to educate ourselves:
- Learn about the topics and terms below
- Read Peggy McIntosh’s article Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
- Listen to Trevor Noah’s 18 minute sharing on our contract with society.
- Watch Greg Boyd’s talk I can’t Breathe (starts at 20:00), and the discussion starts at 58:00.
- Ask yourself, if you are more upset about the riots than you are about the reason for the riots, is it because you’re more devoted to order than to justice (and keeping your knapsack of invisible benefits)?
Here’s some helpful topics and terms to know (with links to articles about them):
BIPOC: black, indigenous, people of color.
Jim Crow laws: a racist caste system that operated primarily in the southern US states between 1877 and the mid-1960s.
Mass incarceration: Despite making up close to 5% of the global population, the US has nearly 25% of the world’s prison population (ACLU). “We recognize people of color are disproportionately arrested, prosecuted, and represented in our prisons and jails.” – @jamesjackerman
The Reconstruction: (1865-1877), the turbulent era following the Civil War, was the effort to reintegrate Southern states from the Confederacy and 4 million newly-freed slaves into the United States.
Privilege: unseen, unconscious advantages that come from having a certain characteristic, like being able-bodied vs handicapped, or gender privileged (i.e. when males make more money for same job); unearned social power.
White privilege: unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they have light skin (please read Peggy’s article above for an in-depth explanation)
White supremacy: a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not.
White fragility: the stress that white people get when racism is discussed (see New Yorker article).
Glossary of terms:
Books to read (I read the first and listened to the last 3):
- Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
A white journalist darkens his skin dark to experience life in the 1950s Deep South as an unemployed black man (true story).
- The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
A wrongfully convicted black man spent 28 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
A kid born to a white father and black mother was illegal in apartheid south Africa. Noah shares what he learned growing up being rejected by both the whites and blacks.
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad (just started this one)
Saad started a 28-day Instagram challenge on how to stop unconsciously inflicting damage on people of color; over 90,000 people downloaded her workbook.
People/groups to follow:
Movies to watch (click for trailers):
Note: there are likely many books, people and movies to read, follow, and watch that are just as good or perhaps far superior to these; I’ve recommended only ones that I’ve personally read, followed, or watched. I’d love to hear your suggestions to add to the list!