And Therein Lies the Rub…

This blog post is in response to an opinion piece in the Fargo Forum: https://www.inforum.com/opinion/7139823-Nelson-They-myth-of-white-privilege?fbclid=IwAR1Iuv2jafAfvo40bUMZHgpqXEqjGpbZi6o4Z_M2v46j_r2xILmIehtdYXU

The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.

— Trouvillot

Have you ever been told that you are a credit to your race?

Have you ever been told that you are not like “them?”

Have you ever had to attain the highest degree of your profession to become an example of excellence in a homogeneous environment?

The words are meant as terms as endearment as compared to the norms. The action is intended as a way to assimilate to the norm.

The norm is essential; both what it is and what it means for each ethnic demographic both now and throughout history.

Minority groups did not set the norms until recently—it was either against the law or left them subject to bodily harm. What they did was find a way to navigate. The fortunate ones did this successfully, but most couldn’t or wouldn’t (and why should they have to)?

What was asked of them was to assimilate or die, which is still the case today.

If you’re are not a minority, you may never have to make that choice. And based on the part of the country from which you are raised, either option means the diminishing of one’s self to create anew.

So, if you haven’t had to make that choice, or you haven’t had those things said to you, then you cannot begin to understand what privilege is. White privilege does mean that you haven’t had issues in your life. It doesn’t diminish how hard you’ve worked for what you have. It does not mean that you actively participate in racism or bigotry. It does mean that when the norms were established, ethnic minorities did not have a seat at the table. I will give you a personal example:

I am probably the first generation in my family (on either side) that will have the opportunity to leave investments for my kids when I die. My wife is white, and I am black. The most interesting aspect of our relationship is how different our ancestor’s paths were.

When her ancestors traveled to America, mine were sharecroppers in Alabama — with no hope of acquiring land.

When her ancestors were settling in North Dakota, making them landowners — an investment that would pay dividends for centuries to come, mine were living life under Jim Crow.

While her ancestors were tilling the land with their blood, sweat, and tears, mine was part of the great migration, using their blood, sweat, and tears to escape poor economic conditions and persecution, just as her ancestors did 50 years previous.

The only way that my father was able to open doors for his family was to join the military in the ’60s, which gave us a fantastic future, but also brought its own set of racial challenges for him.

And there is me. I am a doctor, a politician, an educator, a proud father, and a devoted husband. On the surface, it is easy to say, “Look at you, you have pulled yourself up by the bootstraps and made something of yourself. But that would be missing the point entirely.

Every generation in my family had to start again. Learning norms, navigating to survive, facing oppression and marginalization, and overcoming to strive for uncertain success — things that some minorities have to do still today. For every one of me, there are thirty others that could not defy the odds.

With all of that said, I need to point out that my story and your story are only relative to ourselves and not the bigger picture, and therein lies the rub. You cannot base societal issues solely on individual stories. Both mine and your story are important because it provides some context. But your story does not prove that white privilege does not exist any more than mine proves that it does. We must start to criticize the status quo. Only then can we begin to improve our communities. If we continue to believe that each person is born with the same chance at success regardless of race or social-economic status, we are kidding ourselves.

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