There’s a great chance I’m doing this wrong. Let me know in the comments.
Since I was young, I’ve been hit harder by feelings than most of my peers.
Whenever schoolyard talk got heated, I’d burst into tears and be unable to complete a sentence, then stumble into my 5th grade class, blotchy and sniffling.
Decades later, I still feel things strongly, but for a different purpose. Today, I watched this on the drive home from downtown.
That caused me to scream curses at my dashboard and sulk the rest of the evening.
A year ago, I confessed to my wife, “Babe, I’m worried about Trump. He has a casual relationship with the truth, but he speaks with authority as if all his statements are verified and factual. What if people believe the crazy shit he says?”
And here we are. In the video above, President Trump equates a small crowd of white supremacists with a smaller crowd of people there to start fights with white supremacists. In the mind of the President, they both share the blame for a violent clash that left dozens wounded and one dead.
He’ll likely be re-elected in 2020 by a large demographic who views his words as truth without question.
POTUS is referring to the torch-carrying crowd on Friday night who chanted “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”
Nice people? https://t.co/YO1yS1tg6q
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) August 15, 2017
Recently, a friend of mine caught up with me. It had been a few years since we talked face to face, and he mentioned, “So I see that you’re posting more… um… racial stuff… on Facebook.”
My friend is white, but you could probably guess that.
And he was right; my journey to becoming more “woke” to my own white privilege began fairly recently. As a kid, every member of my middle school classes was white, and I heard a dozen racist jokes before I even entered high school. My high school and college were both north of 90% white, as were my church, family, and co-workers.
It wasn’t until halfway into my first year of teaching that I realized, “I’m the only white person in this room. That’s… probably never happened before.”
That began a shift for me. But I’m hitting a wall now, years later.
One of my favorite podcasts in Code Switch from NPR. In a recent episode, a Charlottesville resident said this:
This [protesting Nazis] is easy, because it’s something that everyone’s for.
Once this goes away, how we deal with other race issues is what really matters in the long run.
My life is easy. Everyone on TV looks like me, people making decisions about our nation look like me, and no groups or legislation are calling for my rights, citizenship, or humanity to be diminished, overtly or otherwise. That’s my definition of privilege: the little advantages that I didn’t earn or deserve that make my life easier.
And there are dozens of them for me. Truly, it’s like I’ve won blackout in Privilege Bingo.
So I must be hyper-attentive when other groups cry, “oppression,” and I listen in closely and shut up.
While I can pat myself on the back for my tweets getting a lot of traction with people I respect, there’s probably very little net impact from that.
Further, I have a bunch of relatives who post … insensitive… content on Facebook.
Not all of them respond well when confronted about it. Some do.
All of this makes it really tempting to tune out, sterilize my social media feeds, and just listen to podcasts about architecture and sociology instead of politics and race relations (all real things in my feed).
If I only hear about happy things, then I won’t be burdened with discomfort about my privilege.
Even writing this post, I’m feel compelled to give examples of my digital activism because white folk love to take credit for being “one of the good ones.” Do I link to the times that I called out toy companies for lack of representation and retweeted #EduColor?
Districts want to hire consultants that just talk about math education, not tattooed punks who use words like “patriarchy” when discussing equity in education. And on my day job, I serve hundreds of white teachers, not all of them are comfortable discussing the topic of race and privilege. Some of them just wanted help getting their work email on their phone.
So I feel a little bit uncomfortable all the time around the issue of race relations, unsure how often to address this issue that I care about that makes some of my peers, friends, and family squirm.
I’m a little bit uncomfortable all the time.
That right there.
That’s the price of my privilege.
I feel uncomfortable sometimes, but I don’t get backhanded compliments for being “well-spoken.”
I feel uncomfortable sometimes, but I don’t get unfairly policed. Ever.
I feel uncomfortable sometimes, but I don’t draw suspicion when I walk into expensive stores.
I feel uncomfortable sometimes, but I don’t get shady eyes from white folk in traditional neighborhoods.
And so on.
So white people, I encourage you to join me. Lean into that uncomfortable feeling and listen. Ask friends and family what they mean when they say, “those people.” Call out microagressions when you hear them, even if it’s just asking, “What did you mean by that?”
Not everyone has the option to tune out.
As to [white friend] “being part of the problem,” trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody. Just like nobody should be mad at me for being black. Or female. Or whatever. But what IS being asked of you is to acknowledge that white privilege DOES exist and to not only to treat people of races that differ from yours “with respect and humor,” but also to stand up for fair treatment and justice, to not let “jokes” or “off-color” comments by friends, co-workers or family slide by without challenge, and to continually make an effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so we may all cherish and respect our unique and special contributions to society as much as we do our common ground.
~Matt “Privilege Bingo” Vaudrey
*If I’m missing something, feel free to mention it below. This post is public, and I want any input to be public, too. Even if it makes me more uncomfortable.
UPDATE 18 August 2017: Hank Green and I are on the same path.