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Racial Climate

Racial Climate -Faith Fitzgerald

I get quiet.

Listen,

“I do not understand what is going on in our country. “

“Why can’t we just get along?”

“What is wrong with these people?”

“What does the color of my skin have to do with anything?”

 

Now I reflect

“No, you do not understand because you are white”

“No, you would not understand why “we can’t just get along” because you are white”

“No, nothing is wrong with these people but you don’t understand because you are white”

“No, the color of your skin does not have the same impact because you are white”

 

“I do not understand what is going on in our country. “

On our campus I see a lot of issues with understanding that the white culture is not the human experience. As a professional I see it in who shows up for our trainings and forums on race. The trainings and forums are usually attended by many of the same people. I hear it in the coded language that is used. I cannot begin to understand what is going on in our country unless I begin to have a dialogue which means I have to show up at trainings and forums. When we are speaking from out white privileged perspective we need to acknowledge this is the words that we use. We all need to see each other as human beings, but this does not acknowledge that as a white person I have a different lived reality than people of color.

“Why can’t we just get along?”

I have spoken to many white people, where a single required “cultural competency training” in their workplace, is the only time they may encounter a challenge to their racial ideals. That is if they are challenged at all. Not all training programs talk directly about racism, much less address white privilege. The trainings I have attended on campus have used mainly  racially coded language such as “inner city,” and “disadvantaged” but to rarely use “white” or “ “privileged.” This language reproduces racist images and perspectives. At the same time it reproduces the impression that race and its problems are what “they” have, not us. When we begin to understand how our white privilege impacts our worldviews and we being to be supportive and speak up then we may begin to get along. But I have to understand that it is not up to me to decide if I am making the changes need but up to the people impacted by my white privilege.

“What is wrong with these people?”

In these trainings on our campus I have heard comments like the one above. That is a statement made by a “bad” white person. I am not a bad person, so I can distance myself. When I see myself as an individual and I distance myself from a racial group I can recognize that whiteness is real. But what do I do about statements such as the one above? Such a bad statement is not my issue but other “bad” white people and they need to deal with their issues. Remember I am not a bad person. But this is not about my being bad it is about a system in which the color of my skin keeps me insulated from the realities of others lived experiences. Trainings should be creating ways for me to be less oppressive. It is more than having someone else deal with an issue or being nice and going to lunch. It is creating change. I am what is “wrong with these people” when I do not use my privilege to speak up.

“What does the color of my skin have to do with anything?”

I wish I could say that I understood just how impactful this white skin is on my daily life. This white skin that shields me from racial stress. The stress that is a lived experience for people without my privilege. Many whites believe their financial and professional successes are the result of their own efforts. This ignores the fact of white privilege. Yes, my white skin is a part of my success. Yet whites are the least likely to see, understand, or be invested in validating those assertions and being honest about their consequences. This leads whites to claim that they disagree with perspectives that challenge their worldview, when in fact, they don’t understand the perspective.

So the issue that I see in our current racial climate is the need to address white privilege and not allow white fragility to hinder our progress. I need to know that I am not a white progressive thinking that I have arrived with the completion of a course. I can only work towards being less “white”.  And In so doing I need to keep with my reflections:

“No, you do not understand because you are white”

“No, you would not understand why “we can’t just get along” because you are white”

“No, nothing is wrong with these people but you don’t understand because you are white”

“No, the color of your skin does not have the same impact because you are white”

 

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