Redefining White Privilege – Part 5 or 2

I struggled to write the last blog post. It was easy to write part three, but part 4 didn’t seem natural. I wanted to put empathy first, but I couldn’t figure out how to write about it. Then it hit me after I finished writing Part 4.

There are two types of empathy, at least when we are talking about race relations. If we are sticking with the Coronavirus metaphor, one of the charectoristics of what we were asked to do is that we were all told to do certain things with our body. Stay inside, stay six feet apart, wear a mask and wash your hands. Now that is only the first step in fighting the effects of the virus, plans and systems have to be created or redesigned to continue to mitigate it’s effects.

That helped me understand that the last post was really step 3 in a 5 step process.

Race relations in America is incredibly complicated. It is more complex than fighting a virus and we needed a critical mass of people on board to make progress. Just like fighting Covid 19 was simple to start, fixing racial inequities will start simply and then become more complex.

Because of that realization, I had to rethink what was going to be a list of 5 things to do to redefine white privilege and approach it as more of a progression.

This is probably over simplistic and might actually be someone else’s idea. I don’t know. What I do know is that this is the progression my life and my wife’s life. So here it is.

  1. First we develop an empathetic mindset.
  2. We spend time in inner city or black neighborhoods in general.
  3. Then we look for things that could be considered “annoyances” and we look at them through an empathetic lens.
  4. We take those observations and along with others and look for connecting points of injustice – we see things that shouldn’t be the way they are and instead of assigning blame on an individual, we place the blame on the system that created the dynamics where the person felt like they could meet their needs in a way that was damaging to themselves or the community.
  5. We help people level up.

As of June 10th, this is what I would see as the pathway to reversing white privilege if there ever was one. There are points of access for everyone. Anyone can and should grow in empathy. We all can seek first to understand where a person is coming from and give them the benefit of the doubt that they are just trying to meet some basic need by their actions or inactions. Even the most accomplished of individuals still have a fear of failure or losing what they have worked to create. We all use what we have to our advantages to try and get ahead. It seems like white privilege is similar in that we (white people) use it to try to meet what we consider to be our basic needs.

Unfortunately, those needs are met by participating in a system that creates pockets of poor, minority neighborhoods. Milwaukee, is an easy example because of the stark levels of segregation found here. If “all” of the white people live in the suburbs and those suburbs have levels of access that are not attainable by poor, minorities then those pockets of poverty will continue to grow in the wrong direction.

Those growing pockets of poverty will work to separate whites and blacks more, since the suburbs accumulate wealth at a much higher rate than the impoverished areas. Now whites are separating themselves further. What started as a fear based racial issue (white flight) is now combining with a misunderstanding of how a person in poverty meets their needs.

Without interacting with those areas and the people that occupy them, it is impossible to grow in empathy enough to understand the injustice that is readily occurring. If a critical mass of an entire people group is blinded to the injustice they are participating in, then little to no change can happen.

When an event like George Floyd’s murder happens, it’s an opportunity to have our eyes opened to injustice. Police killing innocent people is horrific. When we open our eyes and see injustice all around us, we see equally horrific things. Because of this, we now have a number of friends asking us what they can do to help.

That leads us to step 5 in reversing white privilege. We have to help poor, black men and women level up enough to break the cycle of poverty. In my next post I am going to lay out a play that would start to do that.