Most ideas that end up being written about on here come from Meg and I sitting in our chairs our out by the fire after the kids have gone up to bed. Usually there are four or five powerful ideas that we talk about. When one of us says something interesting or unique, the other will say in an exaggerated way – that’s a blog post. We started saying that months before actually writing anything down. I don’t know why it took so long, maybe we needed the encouragement from each other to follow through with it.
Last night was no different. We talked about unmet potential we see all around us. We talked about Andre from the garden and his take on race relations. We talked about a couple of nice comments she had gotten on a post she wrote about planting a garden with our neighbors daughter, who is the same age as ours. During the nights conversation we started talking about an audio book I was listening to and we got on the subject of the tone, specifically our tone and the way that we hear others talking about racial reconciliation. We want to talk about these things in a way that doesn’t immediately turn someone off to the prospects of having a shift in mindset, while still getting the message across.
I’ve know that we need to be able to do that because I have written some things in the past that weren’t necessarily offensive, but were maybe too harsh. It’s a difficult line to balance on. On one hand, it isn’t fun to read something that aggressively challenges someones culturally accepted way of thinking. I just can’t get over the fact that what we have seen living here isn’t ok. Things aren’t right. Maybe they are fine in other parts of the country, but in Milwaukee the black people live in one area and most of them are poor and I don’t understand how that is ok. They live in neighborhoods that cops don’t want to police. Their kids go to schools where teachers don’t want to teach and they spend all of their time in a place where whites, either by intention or not, never go to.
How do we talk about this in a way that pushes people toward action? I started writing about white privilege and how to use that to enact change. Here was the framework I mentioned a week or two ago:
- Grow in empathy
- Intentionally spend time in poor, black neighborhoods
- Look for things you find odd, annoying, or out of place and practice using empathy toward the people doing those things
- Use that empathy to as tool to identify injustice or social inequity
- See spaces where injustice exist as opportunities to fight inequity by helping someone “level up”
So, maybe a different way to push people toward action is to walk through that framework. This is all just stream of consciousness, so it might not make any sense, but let’s give it a try.
I know a guy named Nate. He graduated from high school in 2019. I don’t think he’s working and I know he isn’t in school. If he is working, it’s at a fast food restaurant or the equivalent, lowest paying unsteady job. I’ve talked to him about a dozen times and know a little about his family. He is a super nice kid, but I could tell academics, in the traditional sense, weren’t his thing. He struggled a little to finish high school and once he did, nothing really materialized for him. If you are someone with even a base level of empathy, you would find Nate to be delightful. You wouldn’t care that he was black or that he is poor. He is just a nice kid that doesn’t have much going on. I know he is a hard worker and you might even be able to pick up on that from talking to him. If you spent time with him, you would start to find it odd that he didn’t have a plan for his life. Besides the fast food work, he doesn’t have any frame of reference for what having a career would even look like. Even if he did have a vision for something he wanted to do, I honestly don’t believe he would know how to make that vision happen. While he physically has access to any education he wants, I don’t think he knows enough people who know how to access that education to successfully get him to partake in it. That’s odd to me, because accessing higher education was simple for me. It’s basic to the point where I almost get annoyed that he doesn’t know enough to know he is wasting his potential.
Wasted potential on a large scale is a sign that injustice might exist. It’s like a context clue. Nate is far from the only poor black person that lives in our neighborhood where access to higher education is unobtainable and he is far from the only person that could make some legitimate strides in meeting their own potential. Ok, so how do we help work against that injustice? In this particular case, Nate needs someone to help him level up. He needs someone to literally help him figure out how to go to MATC (Milwaukee Area Technical College). Nate could work construction and pay back whatever money he spent on college within 12 months of finishing the program. He could do that immediately and the course of his life would be drastically changed for the good. He just needs someone to help him level up.
Here the steps that would need to be taken:
- Help him pick out a program at MATC
- Help him fill out his FAFSA
- Explain the options for paying for school
- Help him understand how to work and go to school at the same time
- Encourage him throughout the enrollment process
- Be available when something goes wrong or complicates the plan
- Help him understand the benefits of something like an internship or employment in his related field of study
- Be an accountability partner for him and a person that can listen when challenges arise
- Celebrate with him when he graduates
- Walk him through the process of getting hired in his related field
- Feel satisfied that you used your privilege to level up someone
- Reflect how much more fulfilling his life becomes as he starts to move in the direction of fulfilling his potential
It is easy to stand here in my kitchen in the ghetto and write this. I know it’s more complicated than a 12 step plan, but the idea that we have to use our privilege to help others level up isn’t that complex. It’s actually pretty simple. We, white people, have an easier time leveling up than our black counterparts. For the most part, we created the societal systems we are a part of and almost nobody creates a system that doesn’t benefit themselves. It’s just the way it is right now. It’ll get better someday, but in the mean time, we can mitigate the negative effects our societal systems have on my poor, black neighbors if we can figure out ways to use our white privilege to help them level up within our current system.