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Reflections on Racial Justice: Part XX – White Privilege Revisited

My earlier Reflection on White Privilege contrasted my upbringing with those of Black and Brown friends.  Society told them that educational and professional opportunities were closed to them because of their skin color or ethnicity.  On the other hand, their families told them that education was the way to overcome that barrier.

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Reflections on Racial Justice: Part XIX – CASTE

In academics and athletics, though, they would have to be twice as good as other students to obtain those opportunities.  In contrast, when I was young, it was assumed that my brother and I would have access to a variety of educational opportunities and career options based on where we were able to position ourselves in a meritocracy.  Now, looking back, I realize that this assumption was a privilege.

Additional readings and speakers I’ve heard since writing that expanded my understanding of white privilege.  First, I learned that my privilege is about more than educational and career opportunities.  Rebecca Stevens A., writing in Medium.com, points out that White Privilege is:

about not having to worry about the color of your skin when you walk into a store, no one will think that you are trying to steal something.  It’s about not having to worry that you won’t get a job because of the color of your skin.  It’s about having people that look like you in magazines or in your neighborhood.  It’s about not getting hurt or killed when you get stopped by police.

It’s about immunity to the stress that “everyday racism” imposes on people who aren’t white.

I also learned that my opportunities and freedom from such stress are part of circumstances (the color of my skin) and a system not of my own doing:  what many call systemic racism, or, if Isabel Wilkerson is right, a caste system.  White privilege thus conflates with white supremacy.   Elizabeth “Betina” Martinez’s “What is White Supremacy” suggests that white supremacy is “a web of interlocking, reinforcing institutions,” not just “personal prejudices and individual acts of discrimination.”  The word “supremacy,” according to Martinez, indicates that the system sustains a power relationship.   It is historically based in the conquest of other peoples, slavery, and the seizure of territories by war.

My privilege may be rooted in history, but it is also due to choices I’ve made and how I applied my skills, abilities, and knowledge in a system.  Julianna Bradley describes how both institutions and personal behavior combine to form and perpetuate white identity.  She suggests that white identity should be recognized among African-American, Latinx, and Native Peoples’ identities.  She wants to establish ways of living that are in service to all, not just the particular identities we hold.  That way white people can move from being good people who are non-racist to where they can work on anti-racism and dismantle systems that benefit white people disproportionately.

My identity as “white” is not something I was conscious of.  I never asked, “what is it to be white?”  My privilege as a white person was an assumed entitlement.  I don’t feel guilty or remorseful about that because I wasn’t there to participate in building the system, and I exercised agency to benefit from it.  That’s fine, because, as a friend recently told me, “sorry doesn’t do anything.”

What I learned recently made me realize that I have privilege in such abundance that I can and should give it away generously.  Stevens A. argues that White Privilege is “an infinite and precious resource.”  It doesn’t run out.  Sharing it with others who don’t benefit from the system doesn’t diminish my supply.

I have been doing things that these authors and suggest:  educating myself, speaking with others unlike me.  However, what I’ve learned gives me a more complete framework to understand what I’ve been doing and to guide future efforts.  The framework puts my commitments to organizations like SMU’s center of excellence for Latino Leadership, Nairobi’s Daystar University, Literacy Achieves, and Inroads in a broader context.  My standing, skills, and styles are more effective in organizational leadership and management roles than on the front lines.  Going forward in my current phase of life, front line opportunities can keep me forming relationships with people different from me and learning from them.

Resources:


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Frank Lloyd
Frank Lloyd
Dr. Frank Lloyd is a board member and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Chair for Literacy Achieves, a Dallas, Texas-based non-profit that teaches English as a second language to adult immigrants to facilitate their employment, parenting, and other life skills. He is the producer of Literacy Achieves’ podcast, When I Got Here: Untold Immigrant Stories where immigrants share inspiring personal stories of why they left their homelands, how they got to the U.S., and the lives they are making here. Dr. Lloyd is the former Associate Dean of Executive Education at Southern Methodist University's (SMU) Edwin L. Cox School of Business, where he led the development and delivery of award-winning executive leadership programs and established a national center of excellence on Latino leadership. Dr. Lloyd joined SMU’s Cox School from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, where he was Vice President of Executive Education. Prior to joining Thunderbird, Dr. Lloyd was a human resources executive with General Motors. Among the highlights of his career, he was responsible for organization development and leadership training for GM Europe during its transition from mass to lean production, and he was the first GM Human Resources manager at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), the historic joint venture between GM and Toyota noted for its innovative labor-management relations and the introduction of the Toyota production system. Dr. Lloyd is an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of UNICON, the Global Consortium for University-based Executive Education. He is the former board chair of Daystar US which mobilizes resources to support Daystar, a non-denominational Christian university in Nairobi, Kenya whose mission is to prepare servant leaders for Africa. He also served on the national board of Inroads, an organization with the mission to develop and place talented underserved youth in business and industry and prepare them for corporate and community leadership. Dr. Lloyd was a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Isfahan in Iran. He also served as a U.S. Information Agency curriculum consultant for Germany. He earned a master’s degree at Purdue University and a Ph. D. at the University of Iowa. His undergraduate degree is from Occidental College.

2 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Mac, thank you for these “snacks.” I especially liked the metaphor of the lines. When I was in South Africa, I went to a museum about apartheid, and guests were randomly ticketed to enter through white and black lines. The entry experiences were very different and out of our control. A vivid demonstration. Happy to have a conversation with you sometime. Best to reach me at [email protected] to try to arrange something. Frank

  2. Thanks, Frank.

    Good stuff.

    Here’s a couple of additional snacks for thought that connect (I hope).

    First, we can focus on character over category. Though my apparent options are circumscribed by my background and temperament, I can choose to expand that horizon by acceptance and courage.

    Second, as far as I know, we don’t get to choose which ‘line’ we stand in before birth, i.e. the white line, male line, geography line, gender line, body-type line, and then list goes on. So we can forgive what we can’t control, for ourselves and for everyone, and we can focus on letting go of the dysfunction that we pick up along the way. We can learn to deeply practice respect: unconditional positive regard, for all.

    Thanks again for your insight, and I’d love to have a conversation with you along the way.

    Be.

    Mac

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