Comedian Louis C.K. has this great bit on white privilege. He has some rough language, so I’ll paraphrase, but it goes something like this – “You would find out very quickly about white privilege if you gave whites and blacks a time machine. Whites could go to any time they wanted and find a table at a restaurant. Blacks would never travel farther back than 1980. If you don’t think white privilege exists, you’re an a-hole.”

Of course, he’s right. White privilege is real. My own children are ¼ black but they look as white as I do, and the world I have to prepare them for is much different than for minority children. For two evocative accounts of this sort of reality see:

http://www.rogerebert.com/mzs/what-white-privilege-really-means-an-anecdote

And

http://www.thevillagechurch.net/the-village-blog/more-on-ferguson-and-white-privilege/

I lived in Lake Tahoe for 5 years, and Reno for 13, and every instance of racism that I experienced that stands out in my mind happened in the 15 years that I lived in Sacramento.

When I was growing up, a white neighbor once rebuked me for performing “ni*#er music” (I used to rap).

I was called a “wannabe” by a girl I had a crush on because my best friend was black, and I rapped with him and hung out at his house all the time.

At a black friend’s house, his little sister once called me a cow, because, her mom said all white people were cows. Her aunt once told me that she was surprised I was so cool because “white people are dumb.”

I’m married to a woman who is half black, and in 13+ years together the only racism we have experienced as a couple was walking through Arden Mall in Sacramento when three black men called me a “punk,” because I had “stolen” one of their “black queens.”

That’s it. Although these are all moments of racism, and each is imbedded into my mind for life, compared to what many go through they are insignificant. I will never be paid less because of my race. My kids will never be profiled while walking through a liquor store solely based on their race. I’ll never have to worry that my kids will be shot by cops when unarmed.

The events in Ferguson in recent weeks have highlighted the nature of the problem like no other event in the past 20 years. Many things have become apparent through these events, among them is the reality that there is a sharper racial divide in America than many thought still existed, and that many people see this divide quite differently. Few are taking the time to realize why that is. Everyone believes a certain narrative about these events, and few are taking the time to see why narratives other than their own still exist. I urge everyone to consider 10 things:

1) Not all regions of the country exhibit the same racial realities. I grew up in South Sacramento, and as I said, each of the instances of racism I remember in my own life happened there, but Sacramento is widely regarded as one of the most racially integrated cities in America. In fact, 12 years ago Time Magazine did a feature on just how racially diverse and successfully integrated the city really is:

http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,340694,00.html

I agree with the reality painted in this article. The vast majority of my friends, including my two closest friends, were minorities (a black man and a Hispanic girl). I’ll always think of these two like family. Growing up, race was seldom discussed among my friend groups, even as we got older and more aware of how violent and troubled our city was at times. When race did come up, it was usually because there were violent clashes between black and Hispanic gangs – whites were seldom involved – and they only happened in very distinct parts of the city (including one I spent quite a bit of time in, and as a white person, never felt tension). Sacramento had its own sets of problems, and racism existed, but it was more subtle and nuanced than many other places in the country.

Then I moved to Reno, where I quickly met my wife. In our 13 years together there, as a biracial couple, we never once felt discriminated against. We lived in city where racism existed, and even in large measure to some degree, but it never boiled over, never created large scale conflict. White cops never shot unarmed black men.

After living in these places all my life, it was easy to see why I, and many of my friends, often regarded America as moving successfully towards a “post-racist” society. This was our reality. It is the reality for many other people in various parts of the country. When many Americans “don’t get it,” try to understand, they really do get it. They just get their reality in their part of the country. You don’t understand their experiences any more than they understand yours. This was helpful for me:

http://www.upworthy.com/the-best-explanation-ive-ever-heard-of-why-black-people-and-white-people-see-cops-differently?g=2

2) Of course, recent events have highlighted that America is as not as “post-racist” as some of our experiences suggest. Racism is alive, and destructive, and it’s time that all of us – black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and others – stand up and speak out about our experiences. Once again, it is Louis C.K. who recently reminded us that slavery and segregation weren’t long ago at all:

http://www.upworthy.com/sometimes-it-takes-a-white-dude-to-get-real-about-racism

It makes perfect sense that many black people in America will not at all see these events the same way that we privileged white people will.

It is true that black people in America have largely been MUCH quicker to condemn white cops in these situations. When black people are arrested, they want to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (and should be) , but they do not want to afford many white people this same right when they perceive racism is involved. And while I think this is a bit unhealthy (more on that below), my wife said something to me that goes a long way in explaining why. I asked, “Why do you think black people don’t want to wait for the facts before assuming criminal activity in cases like this?” She responded, “Because white people don’t have a great track record in America for seeking justice and equality for black people in these instances. Black people react quickly and demand their rights and assume things and stick up for themselves because, to be honest, no one else will stick up for them, and justice becomes illusive. Whites are just as quick to assume the innocence of the police as blacks are to assume their guilt.” Damn. Think about it. She’s right.

3) Justice is always better served by waiting for facts than by jumping to conclusions – and this goes for all sides. The people that sign petitions in support of Darren Wilson will look really stupid if it becomes clear that he exhibited unnecessary force and is tried for manslaughter or second degree murder. Those who condemned him will look really stupid if it can be demonstrated that he was acting in reasonable self-defense (although, at this point, this seems unlikely; I still don’t see how Mike Brown needed to die in this instance). I know it’s hard, but we are better served by waiting for facts before jumping to conclusions in this one instance.

4) Regardless of the specifics of this one instance, the overall culture of systemic racism in America that is being highlighted and exposed by this instance is pervasive, and it needs to be challenged STRONGLY. We cannot hide from this, we cannot be silent. We’ve come a long way. Things are much better than they were even 30 years ago. But systemic racism is real, and it takes everyone to speak up to see it go away.

5) Calling out white people for their relative silence is helpful; blaming them is not. It’s true that we are too silent, but it’s also true that many conflicts in America are blamed on white racism where no racism exists, and white people retreat from these things because they are tired of being blamed for things they are not always culpable for.

For example, Thabiti Anyabwile, a man I respect and trust very much, recently wrote about Ferguson, racism, and white privilege. He talked about fearing that his son is more likely to be killed in America than a white kid. This is true, but he failed to mention that 90% of black men killed in America are killed by other black men, and in predominately black neighborhoods. His piece confused the issues and made it sound like black kids must be fearful of white guns when, in large part, this isn’t the case. White privilege does mean whites are less likely to be killed by gun fire (statistically, MUCH less likely), but racism is not always the reason for this.

Many whites are also tired of seeing Al Sharpton lead protests when racism against black people is an issue; while ignoring the dozens of murders of black men in Chicago; and instances when white men are murdered by black men in clear cases of racism.

6) Having said that, it must be admitted by white people that systemic racism does at least need to bear part of the blame even for black on black crime, and I don’t hear whites recognizing this. Again, my wife was insightful. I asked her why whites get blamed even though most black people are killed by other black people. Her response, “Because black kids are raised being told that this is a white man’s world, and their only hope is to get money. They will have nothing handed to them, nothing will come easy.  So they go get it.  They’re all trying to get ahead because the world they live in does not favor them.” This isn’t true of all homes. Many black parents tell their children to persevere, to love others and work hard. And this isn’t to make excuses for crime. There are no excuses. But white people need to do more to bring an overall state of equality to minorities so that the culture can experience a drastic change. When black people commit crimes, usually, they stand to gain a few hundred dollars, they risk losing their lives, and the country fears them. When many white people commit crimes, they are often in favored positions, so they are in a place to make millions in high end white collar jobs (although not all, of course). They are not worried about being gunned down, and the society doesn’t fear them (and sometimes bails them out). Even in crime, and our reaction to it, white privilege is pervasive. Everyone needs to humble themselves. Whites need to be humble enough to admit there is a problem and, as a majority, that we can do the most to fix it. Black people to humble themselves, despite their plight, and recognize that many white people love them and want change, and just need to learn what that looks like.

7) Many black people have been calling for whites to speak up in the past two weeks, but when many whites have, they’ve been condemned as ignorant or racist for not holding to the exact same narrative as many black people. Not all perspectives are equal, this is true, but if we want change we need to listen to each other, speak with love and patience, and appeal to one another through an effort of understanding. Many white people are ignorant of the plight of minorities in many parts of the country. The following article illustrates this.  I don’t agree with everything in this article. For example, it says white people are not profiled for their clothes, despite the fact that I was once stopped by a cop who admitted that it was because of my clothing; and this article has many other problems; but it is insightful in some ways:

http://mic.com/articles/96144/11-things-white-people-should-stop-saying-to-black-people-immediately

But to ask white people to speak only to condemn their words (unless those words are inherently racist, which some are) is not helping. If a blind man has yet to find the river, it’s better to lead him to it patiently than to beat him over the head with a rock. Also, I think minorities need to consider that their narrative is just as likely to be affected by their own bias and presuppositions as whites, and that whites may be saying some things that you don’t want to hear, that doesn’t agree with your narrative or experience, but may still be true. Do minorities only want to be heard, and to find equality, or do they want to achieve these things while also pursuing truth. Being white does not disqualify a person from an opinion, or from having a better perspective in certain aspects of racial conflict, but the current narrative is that white people must listen and stop having their own opinions; all while being told that they need to speak up more. I understand that minorities are sick and tired of their disadvantage, and that Ferguson is bringing this to the surface. They should be. But if we don’t pursue truth and equality together, in understanding and validation of one another, it won’t happen. I guarantee it.

8) If you have recently posted to social media asking why Ferguson is such a big deal, and why we don’t care more about abortion or ISIS or any other tragedy, then I’m sorry, but you’re missing the point. Ferguson is not just about Mike Brown, it’s about a very old problem in America that is effecting the lives of millions of people, and deserves even more attention than it’s getting; not less.

9) If you do not recognize that police are MUCH more likely to shoot an unarmed black man than to shoot an unarmed white man, and that racism is often the reason, then you’re not paying attention. Writing things like this is not helpful AT ALL:

http://buzzpo.com/7-tips-to-keep-from-being-shot-by-a-cop/

Although I have to admit this one is funny:

10) If you are a Christian, white, black, or any other race, you need to lead. You need to speak for change. The Scriptures demand class and racial reconciliation. Read the beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-12. Read the entire book of Luke, who actually changed the words of many of the narratives of Jesus’ life so as to highlight the plight of the poor and disadvantaged of his day. Read Romans 14:1-15:7, where Paul tells “the strong” (gentile Christians) to give up their liberties so as to minister to the weak (Jewish Christians). He uses Christ as the model, showing how he gave up his own liberties to love and appeal to others. Read Galatians and Romans 4, both of which appeal not to the inheritance of Israel, but to the inheritance of the whole earth as the kingdom of God so as to include gentiles in the plans of God along with Jews. Paul constantly spoke of the “mystery” of the gospel, which in almost every context this term is found it is discussing the way the gospel of Jesus unites Jews and gentiles under one head, who is Christ.

And I appeal to white people most of all, don’t be silent. Don’t make excuses. Don’t hide from this. Don’t blame black people for the very real existence of white privilege (this is honestly happening). Read the hundreds of blogs written by black people over the past two weeks (honestly, I’ve read at least 2-3 every day in the past two weeks, and it’s opened my eyes to so much), and seek to understand their perspective. We need to pursue justice.

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