We’ve all heard the outrage over the necessity of the president’s resignation at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) after protests demanding his ouster in the past week. A Washington Post column today discussed the nature of the resignation speech in the context of black lives in this country. The results from two professors were that the speech seemed to be apologizing to the president’s supporters and castigating those who “yelled,” presumably the protesters.
The comments on the article aroused in me a wondrous anger, saying such things as the actions protested against were minor and that the students had made a mountain out of a molehill. Several said that nothing terrible had happened, and throwing cotton balls could not be deemed to be an egregious action. The protesters were compared to thugs and irrational people with cavalier disregard of the fact of white privilege. I wrote an angry response to these commenters, and was surprised a few hours later to find that my and several other posts had been deleted, presumably by WaPo.
I will attempt to reconstruct my comment here, because I am sorely offended by the majority of the comments. Those commenting, from the vantage of white privilege, claimed that the students were making a mountain out of molehill. I opined that they had mistaken what they had seen, that in fact rather than being a molehill it was the tip of the iceberg. Not one white person commenting could understand or appreciate the problems encountered by those who are not white. Raised in a white majority country, they have not felt the institutional weight of racism or any other -ism barring their way as a matter of course through life. They have not experienced what it must feel like to know that you might be killed or arrested merely for the color of your skin every time you walked out of the house. They could not understand the fear a mother might instill in her child knowing of the institutional racism throughout our society. Driving or walking while black, phrases currently bandied about knowingly by some whites who treat the terms as something of a joke, are horrifying things to consider. We would call it a police state if it were happening to whites.
The black students at Mizzou have lived with institutional racism since the day they matriculated. The president admitted as much in his resignation. Because we do not experience it, we tend to ignore it. I know this because I, and many of my friends, have examined our own positions since the phrase “white privilege” has gained conversationally a place at the table. All people of good conscience would do well to self-examine under such circumstances. I am not surprised to realize that I did very well on SATs and LSATs in my youth in part because they were aimed at me, a well-educated white.They used terms with which I had daily converse, situations I knew and recognized viscerally, language that fit that used in my home by my highly educated parents. I am a living example of white privilege, getting into schools and professions that welcomed me (slightly less than my male counterparts, admittedly) and I won’t address here the struggles that I faced in the ’60s and ’70s as a woman in a man’s world.
What I have come to realize in my introspection on the issue of white privilege is that (1) I will never personally experience the kind of daily denigration and disregard suffered by blacks in institutional settings, be they classrooms or confrontations with the police, and (2) I must recognize that racism I find in myself. Do I see other races as different? I do not intend to, but I do. I would be less than honest with myself to say otherwise. Do I struggle against this tendency? Mightily, but so far with only some success. Do I grant to my acquaintances the liberty of being themselves culturally? I certainly try, but am not immune to criticizing someone who speaks “poorly” i.e., not white. Why can’t everyone be like me? Because everybody, of whatever race or creed or ethnicity, is different. That’s the way of this world.
We should put as few walls around ourselves as possible, and open out to the wonder of everyone in this world. Life is a gift, and it should be shared with all. Love is a grace, and the more of it there is, the less unhappiness in the world. The Golden Rule, or its cognate, can be found in virtually every religion in the world. The rule we have set as our goal, then, is to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Consider then the Platinum Rule. We should do unto others as they would have us do unto them. Then we and our “other” brethren can be free. Then we have the chance to find happiness.