By Linda Dove
September 3, 2017
Have you too experienced that uncomfortable feeling when you are new to a group and someone forgets to introduce you? For me, that is not affirming. It feels like a put-down. Naming is powerful, isn’t it? And not naming is just as powerful.
Today I name White Privilege in the context of White Supremacy. I will talk briefly about this in the context of our country’s recent upheavals. Charlottesville is the example close to home where the ALT-right, the KKK, the neo-Nazi terrorists and sympathizers proclaimed their hateful truths and named the statue of a slave-owning Confederate leader as a symbol of their “free speech” right to preach evil.
Eve Ensler, in an interview on This I Believe, makes my point in a quite other context. Eve is a performer and the feminist author of the Vagina Monologues. She wrote:
I believe in the power and mystery of naming things. Language has the capacity to transform our cells, rearrange our learned patterns of behavior and redirect our thinking. I believe in naming what’s right in front of us because that is often what is most invisible.
As a country, after decades of near silence, we are yet again at a threshold in openly naming racist acts and speech. Good. Let’s see Charlottesville, tragic though it was, as a fresh start in Identifying and defeating racist terrorism.
First, though, I want to share with you a little of my own evolution in this context.
- I grew up in the 50s and 60s in mainly white schools, white universities, a white Girl Guide troop—and, by the way, among girls only. My mono-culture experience made me oblivious to race—and, sadly, for a long time to men too!
- I first became conscious of race after graduation. I volunteered in a bush village in Sierra Leone where I was a minority of one among black Africans,
- Later, in Scotland and London I taught university students from developing countries and advocated for equal opportunities for black Caribbean, Pakistani and African immigrants who were joining the Polish, Jewish and Cypriot immigrants of earlier generations. These earlier immigrants were, by then, being named as white people and accepted. This personal experience deepened my consciousness of race as a partly social construct.
- Then, anti-poverty work with the UN and the World Bank raised my consciousness of social justice and humanitarian concerns to a global level. I realized too that I was respected and listened to because I was a representative of powerful, authoritative institutions. This was an important reminder.
Now, let me bring things up to date back home. White supremacy is suddenly on everyone’s lips. Karl Skutsch, in Rolling Stone, August 19, 2017 wrote this:
[There’s a] new face of white supremacy in the United States. It goes beyond the systemic racism minorities have long faced and continue to face. White supremacists dream of a world in which minorities are either subservient or nonexistent.
Progressive activists are beginning to grapple with systemic racism. The change movement, Black Lives Matter, for example, focuses on discrimination by the police and the justice system against people of color. And, as you know, Unitarian-Universalists have recently named systemic racism in our own institutions. When minority candidates were passed over as nominees for the UU Association’s President’s race, a Black Lives of UU group (BLUU) formed. BLUU went further to name the UUA’s thinking and actions as white supremacist and challenged both the UUA and UU congregations to confront white supremacy in our institutions. BLUU organized congregational teach-ins to raise consciousness. I attended one.
Naming UU-ism as white supremacist affronted a lot of us, including myself. But I am not a white supremacist, I protested, Have I ever condoned violence and hatred of “the racial other”? Don’t I care about righting wrongs against minorities? Didn’t I voluntarily take that online tolerance test to reveal my racist traits?
However, I have gradually come to accept that I am inevitably a part of the white supremacy system. This system is the embedded power and privilege based on race that white people enjoy every day—mostly unconsciously. Not that I am a white supremacist in the way that the Charlottesville mob was. They are at the violent extreme fringe of the white supremacy system. They want to perpetuate the system and are afraid that white people will lose their superior standing. And there is a continuum of white supremacy from this extreme to the extreme leftist fringe.
So, this is where I stand today. I cannot help being a member of the racial group that is on top. But I must now act, as a UU, and as a human being with others, to help create equal opportunity for non-white people. Like many of us here since the presidential campaign, I feel a strong nudge to do a little more to make a difference.
I also acknowledge that I cannot avoid privilege as a white person. Black and brown people, other things being equal (class, gender etc.) are always last in line, the first to be discriminated against and denied privileges. Even as a female I am much more privileged than non-white people of any gender. So, I say that identifying personal white privileges is a first step for each of us towards demolishing the white supremacy system in favor of equality opportunity for all.
Can you imagine not being on the top of the heap in society and how that would feel? For me, white privilege is so normal that I hardly notice how it favors me. But I do need to identify, name and explore how I always come out on top and what the effects are on those underneath.
I invite you now to share with me a little of this journey through white privilege.
Refer to the handout in your OOS. And please take a prompt-card, one between two. Turn to your neighbor. Share together some white privileges you, your family and friends enjoy. Don’t just say, “housing”, for example. Examine particular details. How would you feel about losing this privilege? Then, choose just one experience to share with the congregation—not opinions or abstract ideas, just one personal experience.