It has been a few weeks since the protests in the USA have begun, and I have been mostly silent on the matter as I sat back and reflected on the role I played or did not play in making things better or worse in the communities in which I live. I have discretely made some donations to causes supporting the movement and lent my name to petitions demanding justice and change. I live in a white region of Canada, and racial diversity is not always front and centre in my mind. After living in Edmonton, a much larger city and coming back for a visit, I was sitting at the lights at a popular intersection, and it hit me how white of a community northern New Brunswick is.
There were several reasons that “the guy who has an opinion about everything” has taken this long to offer his stance publicly. One, and most importantly, my voice isn’t a critical one to the outcome, but as I am an elected official and view myself as a leader, I feel obligated to let my support be known. The second reason is that I have always wrestled with the term “White Privilege.” Over the last two weeks, I have done some soul searching as to why that is. Part of it is the fragility of my ego, but what I can’t reconcile with, is the struggles and hardships that I see every day due to poverty, addiction and reasons besides race that would hardly be called privilege.
It took me a while, but this is where I landed. I believe that this approach helped me understand the roles that myself and people like me need to play in the future of our society and how we have failed so far.
First off, if people of colour want to continue to use the term White Privilege to describe the smooth ride white people have gotten over the years in contrast to the oppression that they have faced, every bit of power to them to continue to do so. However, I believe that this is the wrong way for white people to look at it. In my heart, I believe the privileges in question are rights that everyone should have, regardless of race, language, place of origin or social station. Calling it a privilege does two things, both of which I feel are not constructive for white people who want to assist in this revolution.
- It makes it seem like the rights that we have failed to safeguard for our brothers and sisters of colour are treats, fringe benefits and rewards that we received. Rather than exposing the truth, we have been complicit in allowing the denial of fundamental rights to our neighbours, our friends and our fellow human beings. We should carry that burden.
- Secondly, it positions this as something that White people need to lose. And no one is asking for that. The African Canadian and American communities don’t want a transition to a status where other people are denied these rights. They simply want what we tell ourselves we believe in, “Equality for All.”
Psychology tells us that everyone is loss averse. So presenting this as something to be stripped away will create dissonance between the unconscious and conscious mind. And maybe that is all I am doing here, finding a way to reconcile the steps that I know need to be taken in my brain, with the emotional security that I value in my heart. Instead, for white people, especially those who are like me and don’t see the effects of systemic racism every day, and are realizing that we have collectively failed a large segment of our society. Our grandfathers went to war to liberate countries from an oppressive regime, and they died for the ideals of freedom, equality and safety for all. Yet, they returned home and, then they and their children passively allowed similar violations of those ideals to go on for decades.
So, I will leave it at this. I have lived my life, which has been full of challenges, hardships and hurdles. Ones that most people face in one way or another. And this movement always has, and even as I type this out, caused mental and emotional confusion. And I think I can finally say why that is. The only other times I’ve felt this way were in times of guilt, where I knew that I had failed to do the right thing, and I tried to let myself off the hook. My brain is telling me that I live in a predominantly white community, and there was little that I could do. My heart doesn’t want to accept these excuses.
I hope this helps; I know there are a lot of good people out there right now who are struggling with these feelings, and that the question of privilege can be hard to reconcile with our own experiences. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper, it’s what we owe to each other, and the fact that we have been absentia in this duty for so long is something for which we should be ashamed. And this isn’t about white people riding in to save the day, Black people I believe have this covered, we just need to support them. But most people like me, I believe, have this vision of the society that we live in as one of equality, freedom and safety for all. It hasn’t been that way, and we share the blame for that; however, we do have the privilege to help right that wrong.