White privilege? Not me – I grew up in rural poverty, the child of a parent with an eighth grade education. No way am I privileged. Racist? Not me – I had a black fiancé in St. Louis in the 1980’s and have several mixed race great nieces and nephews today. How wrong this perspective was. Through Witnessing Whiteness I learned that we ALL are part of the problem of race in this country and we all CAN be part of the solution.
Witnessing Whiteness is a YWCA led workshop. Approximately six UUM folks joined a large group of our neighbors at Bais Abraham, meeting on Sunday evenings for ten weeks beginning last fall. I was particularly struck by how many older Jewish congregants participated, some in their seventies or eighties, and how they were still committed to learning and making a difference in our local community. One particularly bitterly cold, snowy evening, one of the eldest among us asked if anyone who lived west of 270 could take her home because her husband had refused to return to U-City in the elements to fetch her. Her dedication to these at times, difficult conversations and self-reflection really spoke to me.
Next, I’d like to read an excerpt from Shelly Tochluk’s book Witnessing Whiteness, to help you understand what this is really all about. "White people in general are not known for questioning (1) how we receive unearned privilege in our daily lives and (2) how whiteness marks our environments…people need to be clear that when we can witness the whiteness present in our surroundings, we let people know that we can be part of conversations that most white people generally avoid, defend against, or deny. In some ways, our ability to witness white privilege may offer validation for the experiences of the people of color in our lives. At other times, our increased vision may help to build trust, connection, and mutual sharing. In either case, when white privilege can be named and discussed as a real factor affecting people’s lives, the doorway opens for an entirely new ability to relate."
For a revealing glimpse of white privilege in St. Louis, please see Amy Hunter’s Ted Talk, Lucky Zip Codes.