The many comments I received about Jezra Kaye’s column, “Some Thoughts about Race for White Readers,” tended to fall into two main categories: (1) lack of awareness of white privilege; (2) the need for whites to talk about racism with each other.
Lack of Awareness of White Privilege
This reader’s comment captures the tone and content of several of the responses about white privilege: “Until I read Ms. Kaye’s column, I never once considered how my whiteness advantaged me, from the moment I was born. Much of my success I took credit for as ‘I accomplished,’ I am now reexamining by asking myself the question, ‘Would things be the same for me if I had been born Black?’ The answer is probably not, starting with how and where I was educated and the options I have always had for where I can work and live. This idea of white privilege is new thinking for me.”
In this same vein, another reader writes how he, too, is thinking in new ways. He read one of the books recommended by Jezra, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. He said he was struck by this observation by author Robin J. DiAngelo, a white woman: “The most profound message of racial segregation may be that the absence of people of color from our lives is no real loss. Not one person who loved me, guided me, or taught me ever conveyed that [racial] segregation deprived me of anything of value.”
Similarly, another reader wrote: “I haven’t known any Blacks on a personal level, so I never really thought about them and their hardships. When they took to the streets to protest, I always thought of them as rabble rousers. I just assumed that segregation was mostly a thing of the past and any hardworking Black could get ahead, but I am beginning to see that segregation still exists. I know I still have a lot to learn, but now the Black Lives Matter movement makes sense to me.”
The Need for Whites to Talk about Racism with Each Other
Jezra supports the interest from whites who want to better understand the Black experience, but she suggests whites should have discussions with other whites and not put the burden of edification on Blacks. Her point is reinforced by Black author and columnist Damon Young, who writes in his article, “Yeah, Let’s Not Talk About Race,” “the white people who do this [want to have discussions about racism with Blacks] don’t realize (or maybe just don’t give a damn) that we’re on different timelines. You learned yesterday what white privilege means? Great! Welcome to 1962. This, however, doesn’t mean I need to engage you about it today. Or tomorrow. Or ever … because I want to give myself a break from writing about, from speaking about, from thinking about and from raging about racism …”
These discussions among whites about racial injustice and inequities are happening. For example, one reader wrote:
“The shock and horror of the killing of a Black man by a white police officer affected many of us in my large, predominantly white residential community. A group gathered on a Zoom call to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, the event itself, and how we might respond to it.”
“Several small groups formed, including one looking at white privilege. We decided we wanted to have a conversation to talk about the experience of our privilege. I will facilitate the discussion. We want to air a similar conversation on our closed-circuit television channel. The goal will be to raise awareness and spark conversations about white privilege.”
On a personal level, in my Zoom calls with my co-grandparents, sisters, and close friends – all whites – much of our time is devoted to talking about important current issues, including racism.
Typically, one or more of us will suggest an article or two to read or movie or video to watch prior to the Zoom call.
We share our thoughts and experiences about racism-related topics such as:
- When and how we became aware of racism.
- When we have witnessed or participated in racism and how we behaved.
- Specific actions we are taking or plan to take to address racism.
- What to do about statues of those who dishonored American values in some way.
- What should be done about past injustices and hate crimes against Blacks.
For me, I find these discussions with trusted friends and family members informative and thought-provoking: they always leave me thinking about important issues with broadened and varied perspectives.
Many readers commented on the value of the resources Jezra compiled, with one reader, a college administrator, saying, “It [list of resources] looks like a college syllabus, all ready to go. I plan to share it with others.” In fact, as discussed in this article, we may see more and more colleges not only offering courses in ethnic studies / social justice, but requiring them for graduation.
I know my readers join me in thanking Jezra Kaye for her insightful and resource-rich column. Many of us realize we have a lot to learn, and Jezra is invaluable in helping us in this process.
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