When I wrote about being a white mom who cares about racism, one commenter challenged me with the phrase “if equality is truly your passion,” and that gave me pause. Is equality my passion, or was the death of Michael Brown just a news story that caught my attention for a few days? It was a fair question to stop and ask myself.
In fact, equality is something that I am passionate about. I feel strongly that gay people should have all the same rights as straight people. I feel strongly that people with disabilities need to be recognized as different but not less than people without disabilities. I feel strongly that children should be treated with as much respect and kindness as adults. I feel strongly that women still need to push back against an American culture that holds sexist and misogynistic views. And I feel strongly that there is still a powerful current of institutionalized racism in America and we need to face it to get beyond it.
Since the Ferguson story broke, there’s been a predictable backlash from white people who claim that white privilege doesn’t exist. But there have been many more thought provoking stories from people insisting that it does. I suppose I understand why a lot of white people don’t “believe in it,” because they don’t see it, because they are inside it – to me they are like fish complaining that they don’t believe in water.
I really enjoyed this post up on Blogher from a white woman who experienced both poverty and racial integration as a child, yet still was shocked to realize she had benefitted from white privilege. I also super-love the exercise her church conducted to help her come to that realization – can we all do this sometime?
Another great piece I read is a longer article from The Atlantic called The Case for Reparations. It was published last May but began to recirculate on Twitter after Ferguson’s unrest began. It’s a fascinating history of the systemic racism in the housing industry that began when slavery ended and has not let up ever since. Black Americans who’ve worked hard and tried to attain the American dream of home ownership have, over and over again, been cheated, scammed, and herded into racial housing ghettoes. I was stunned to realize that racial segregation is very much built into the way our cities’ and towns’ neighborhoods were set up through federal and private mortgage programs.
A few people have linked back to the 1980’s classic by Peggy McIntosh called White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. Definitely worth a read if you want to understand what white privilege means.
Maybe you think all that stuff’s a huge downer, but I don’t believe we can move forward without acknowledging our own history AND our present: how it’s been shaped by the past and how it simply IS now. It’s about so much more than slavery. If people refuse to look at what’s wrong, things will never be right.
And it’s important to understand, this is NOT about guilt. To me, guilt is an ugly soup of self-centered resentment and passive aggression. It’s about acknowledging what’s wrong so we can fix it.
I’m excited that Mamademics is going to feature a series called Raising an Advocate. This is a huge piece of how we can make things right: teach the next generation to both know better, and do better. It’s not enough to tell our kids simply that everyone is the same on the inside. They have to know where we’ve come from and how far we have to go. And we have to be honest and willing to look at the little corners where our own prejudices hide.
In her first installment of the series, Danielle talks about how she uprooted her bias toward homosexual people, and how painful it was to realize that she’d harbored judgment and prejudice toward that group of people. I know I’ve moved through many of my own biases, but the one that stands out in painful relief for me in this phase of life is how little I have understood and respected people with disabilities until now.
Even before I had children I became interested in reading books written by autistic adults, like Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison. I still really like to read books and blogs written about and especially by people with disabilities, whose voices, I’ve come to realize, have been so marginalized in our culture. I’d never even heard of the word “ableism” let alone thought about what kinds of ableist attitudes I might be clinging to.
I think what people don’t realize when they are afraid or angry (and what’s anger but fear in disguise, really) about looking at their own privilege or prejudice – once you get past that first wave of dismay, it does not feel BAD to open your heart to a group of people you weren’t really hearing before. It feels wonderful, enlightening, and makes your life more interesting and full. One thing that advocates for inclusive education (children with disabilities being included in mainstream classrooms to the extent that it’s possible) always say is that inclusion benefits EVERYONE. Not just the marginalized or oppressed group. And I find this is true in every way.
Deep inside, I’m an idealist, an old-fashioned, John Lennon, Rainbow Connection, bleeding heart liberal, a dreamer. So, yes, I do care about equality. It’s a vital and central principle of life for me. And I wish more people would let go of their fears and embrace equality for all people, and I stubbornly refuse to believe it will never happen. The lovers, the dreamers, and me.