There's a new survey out showing how people feel about being of color in our contemporary culture. Not to put too fine a point on it, it suggests a lot about white privilege. And gender, while we're at it, let's not forget gender...
Me, I come from the underclasses. My father was a petty criminal and general all-around screw up. I dropped out of high school. My future didn't look good.
But, I had a couple of things going for me. I was smarter than average. And while my education was at best spotty, we moved frequently, and I never attended any specific school two years running, and eventually dropped out without a diploma; nonetheless, I had a bloated vocabulary. I had a life long habit of going to the library, finding the great Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2nd Edition, looking up a word, which would lead to another, and so on for somewhere between half an hour a day to an hour, several days every week throughout my adolescence. I also tried to enunciate when I spoke, and while my pronunciation was often a bit off the mark, and there probably was a certain artificiality to it all, I came to be what might best be described as well spoken.
And, I was white. And, I was male.
Yes, I worked hard. And it is a constant wonderment to me how people really, really want my successes to be all about boot straps, me, I did it, by hard work.
Now its true I worked hard.
But, there's no way that was going to be enough.
It was the small things. That hand out. That hand up. Which really make the difference. All the hard work in the world doesn't matter without someone helping...
And I got those hands...
Now I'm not in any way suggesting its easy for white guys. Far from it. The good Lord knows how hard it is for white working people, particularly those without college. But, as hard as it is, it is harder for men of color and women, whatever the color of their skin.
As I look back there are many moments when I can see that hand which was reached out to me had something to do with being a white guy. I don't see how any self-awareness and a smidgen of basic honesty can allow me to pretend otherwise. Now, I think few of the people who helped me along the way were in any way racist or sexist. The assumptions are in the water we drink. In the air we breathe.
And this is the nut of the problem. The sad, sad events around the killing of the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by 28-year-old George Zimmerman did not really circle around "Stand Your Ground," noxious as that law might be. Rather it was how people perceive young black men. It has more to do with "the talk," what it means to be a racial minority in our culture.
I had a bit of a conversation with a friend about the Trayvon Martin killing. I wanted to speak of this as the core issue. He wasn't interested in what he considered soft issues like prejudice, but rather what he saw as hard issues like the law, and particularly justifications for "Stand Your Ground."
Here's a truth. The casual assumptions around men of color and women are a worm in the heart of our culture. Seeing men of color and women as other in any substantive sense is wrong.
And a poison.
Even when its nothing more than not thinking of the black guy when you have a job, of not thinking of the woman when you're considering whom to promote.
This is the worm in the heart of us as people and us as a culture. This is what is meant by the term institutional racism. And along with it is an institutional sexism. It's built in. It's hard to see.
Unless you're on the outside, of course. And then its hard not to see it. Sometimes, often, it makes those on the outside a little crazy. I know I would be.
Common decency calls on us doing well to reach out that hand. Common decency.
And. Here's another truth. As long as people don't see these things as institutional, the fact that the system itself is stacked, and that it is fueled by casual bigotry, often barely assumed, possibly not even noticed disdain, dislike, distaste for the other, for men of color and for women, we're going to be stuck with this way of being as the way things are.
And that common decency calls on white people to stand up for people of color. And for men to stand up for women. Common decency. And if we don't? Well, it just continues.
Well, until the day when the majorities shift. At which point in might have been a good idea to have been one of those who saw through it, and tried to do something about it.