May 14, 2010

Facing White privilege: Small openings lead to larger ones

Back in early April this year, a group of ten Quakers attended the annual White Privilege Conference, along with 1,700 other attenders. I am still integrating and digesting what happened there, what happened to me, and what is still happening within me.

I know that something is happening because in the five weeks or so since that conference ended, I've had a number of race-based challenges and exchanges:

  • I sat next to an extroverted, self-proclaimed politically Conservative White male* on a 2-1/2 hour plane ride within a week after the conference, and interrupted his racist rhetoric several times. My main tactics were to tell him that I was offended by what he was saying and to ask him "How many Mexicans/Somali/Hmong people do you know personally by name...?"
  • I attended an orientation on my own, about sponsoring refugee families--an orientation that the worship group was able to participate in while I was traveling out of town. This is something I would not have done on my own before the White Privilege Conference.
  • I'm asking people of color who are store clerks and have name tags how to pronounce their name if it's clearly not an Anglo Saxon one. I also immediately offer my own name to them.
The list goes on.....

But my intention isn't to pat myself on the back (as a White, owning class, educated person, I inadvertently do plenty of that, truly). Rather, it's that I'm marveling at how much more I am "seeing" these opportunities to interact with my brothers and sisters that probably have always been in front of me.

I'm seeing these opportunities and I'm participating in them.

Quakers often talk and write about how, when we are faithful in following the small nudges we are given, we are being prepared to follow the larger, more burdensome leadings down the road. This feels similar: now that I've stepped through some small opening about facing my White privilege, I'm being given more opportunities, more openings, to continue to do so.


*I realize not all White men who are politically conservative are racist.

P.S. The 2011 White Privilege Conference is planned to be held in a near-suburb of Minneapolis. w00t w00t!


Patricia Pope said...

I applaud your efforts.

Shirls said...

Good for you, Liz! May all of us who enjoy white privilege find ourselves so lead.

Shirley S
Kansas City

Rudy said...

I love your idea of asking how to pronounce people's names: that is so courteous! and giving your name "equalizes" the situation. I am sometimes made uncomfortable by realizing that I've called a Target clerk, or gas station attendant, by the first name on their badge, but they have no idea what my name is.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks to each of you for your encouragement.

I find that as more people of European descent speak about how we confront our White privilege and work to undo our "internalized superiority"--in a way that parallels how people of color undo their internalized racism--the more willing I become to do the same.