I am white. And not just in the “sunburns-when-she-thinks-about-swimming” and “orders-complex-Starbucks-drinks” way. I am white in the “never-had-to-really-worry” way.
Nepotism has gotten me a fair amount of jobs. I can make a decent living with only a two-year degree, my kids don’t have to worry about being racially profiled or have any assumptions made about them based on their skin color.
I’ve benefited from food stamps when times got tough and never was called a “welfare queen” or had to worry about anyone saying I worked the system without first trying to understand my situation.
I don’t have to think about racism if I don’t want to because it doesn’t directly pose a threat to my life or the well being of my family.
Unearned advantage is only one facet of systemic white supremacy, and it’s sneaky because unless you’re looking for it and you’re on the receiving end of it, it’s almost impossible to see.
My husband and I have been looking for a tangible way that we can push back against the climate of white supremacy, but being white, we know that we’re only seeing part of the picture.
We have a huge disadvantage when it comes to being allies to people of color because of all of the advantages we undeservedly reap based on our whiteness. In order to really get in and do anti-racism work, we have to first address the one thing that really makes comfortable, middle-ish-class white folk uncomfortable.
We have to really take a look at white privilege, so we approached our pastor at The Big Red Church about opening up a discussion on Wednesday nights during one of our already established study times. It was approved in June for a mid-September start date.
Over the weekend, I shared on my personal Facebook that I would be co-facilitating this discussion while trying to find a way to process the atrocities happening in Charlottesville. The response was huge. People really want to find a way to start working on seeing their own privilege as a way to begin the bigger work of being an informed ally and advocate for people of color.
And the whiter we are, the harder it is to find a helpful foothold that is neither appropriating nor exploitative.
We have had it reinforced over and over that we are always right. We are always stronger and smarter, and we can do everything better. Those are not ideal conditions for listening to the needs of those who feel the direct effects of systemic white supremacy.
And then among the supportive voices, the cautious ones came out. To start small. To be careful. Not to attract too much attention to ourselves. And while I love the worry and concern for safety as things heat up, I can’t help but think that this is exactly how white privilege has been able to thrive.
We can fly under the radar with little effort. Our skin is not going to incite unprovoked violence or label us as troublemakers without any reason. Staying mum while another person cannot hide or escape from being a target is absolutely a privilege, and it is one to which we have no right.
Planning this conversation with my faith community is the first time I’ve felt mobilized and able to do something to dismantle unjust systems. I want to show that I am listening to, and taking a stand alongside, people of color. It’s not easy, but as a white woman, I’ve had enough unearned benefit.
It’s time I begin to work hard and feel uncomfortable in the name of a just America.
For our discussion. we will be using the United Church of Christ’s “Let’s Talk About White Privilege” curriculum (available free at http://bit.ly/2vxS9Rh ). All are invited to join our conversation and better yet, are encouraged to begin similar conversations in their faith communities.
Kimberly Williams is the director of facilities, communication, and technology at First Congregational Church of Fresno. She’s also a mom, a wife, a student, a writer, and an insufferable optimist. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: “Sacred Pursuits: Let’s Talk About White Privilege”
When: Wednesday nights, Sept. 13-Oct. 18 at 6 p.m.
Where: First Congregational Church of Fresno, 2131 N. Van Ness Blvd., Fresno
Details: www.bigredchurch.org for more information.