Whitewashing White Privilege
I grew up in a white-only world. As a child I didn’t realize that segregation had this purpose: It’s easier to deny people justice when you don’t know them.
As a kid growing up in Ohio in the 1960s I lived in a white neighborhood and most of my friends were white. So were my teachers, my doctor, my dentist and anyone else of seeming importance. That world seemed natural and normal to me.
When an Asian family moved into our neighborhood someone painted “COMMIE” on their trash cans. They only lasted a month. When a black family moved to the very edge of our neighborhood my family moved out. I was told that blacks would ruin the place. Later I went back and was surprised that the whole neighborhood had become black. And clean and well-kept and beautiful.
When I was a teen I got pregnant and went to live at a home for pregnant girls. I was put on the white girl’s floor. We were counseled to give up our babies and go back to school and make something of ourselves. But black girls were encouraged to keep their babies and go on welfare. I am not kidding. That was in 1980.
Later, I lived at the YWCA and I was put on the top floor — the white girls’ floor. We even used different elevators so that black and white would never meet even while we lived in the same building. One day I decided to visit the second floor and was shocked to see that black women and their families were crowded into small rooms. I had a room of my own.
When I moved to California and took the city bus, I was surrounded by people of many cultures. That frightened me.
My upbringing as a white middle-class child was tailor-made to help me see the world only through white eyes.
The only people of color that I came into contact with were on T.V. There, black people lived on welfare in ghettos and committed crimes. I was told that black people were lazy and good for nothing. That made it easy to blame them for their poverty.
It’s hard to see injustice when you don’t know anyone who’s been hurt by it. When you don’t see their pain and misery. And when they have only themselves to blame, after all. Because you never learn about the history of educational discrimination and job discrimination, or the inability to pass on wealth when you’ve never been able to gain any, yourself, because of discrimination or slavery. You don’t know about the poor schools kids attend today, the uneducated or overworked parents who can’t help with homework, the hunger and toothaches and lack of glasses that make learning impossible. You just don’t think about it.
I grew up privileged by comparison.
In elementary school, surrounded only by white children I said The Pledge of Allegiance and supported “justice for all.” But then, white America was the real America. That was all I knew.
I’m glad to see things changing. And I’m glad that I have changed to appreciate diversity and gain greater empathy and understanding.
February is Black History Month
Sarah was one of my students. She gave permission to post this on my blog.