Columnist Sara Weinberger: How do we end white privilege?

Published: 7/30/2020 3:14:13 PM

In a recent podcast Michael Moore asked, but could not answer the question, how do we end white privilege?

I decided to ask some white people I know for one action to begin to change this system of unequal privilege that they have inherited. I asked only white people because white people have been benefiting from their unearned privilege and it is up to those of us who are white to educate ourselves to dismantle white privilege and level the playing field to create a more equitable society.

Twenty-six people, mostly with local roots, ranging in age from baby boomers to millennials, shared their ideas. I will summarize their responses in three columns, beginning today.

Educating

Several of the people I interviewed teach in higher education and others have worked with children. Changing classroom culture and curriculum needs to begin early and continue through graduation, they say.

Students need to gain an in-depth understanding of racial injustice and white supremacy, as well as the meaning of white privilege and its implications. Engaging with school committees is necessary to advocate for educational systems that will give youth the knowledge, skills and empathy to build a more just society. Parents also need tools to assist them in anti-racist child rearing.

Faculty in higher education are reviewing the courses they teach to make course content more racially inclusive. A social work professor is requiring that students in his Mental Health Through the Lifespan course examine the impact of race and racism on the etiology and treatment of mental health disorders.

So often, college literature courses emphasize white male writers, unless the course is specifically focused on a marginalized group, thus keeping the latter groups out of mainstream education.

A friend who teaches a course in British and American Poetry Craft is going to focus on poets from the Harlem Renaissance and New Black poets to make sure that her students become knowledgeable about the often overlooked contributions of Black poets.

A social worker friend, who earned her master of social work degree later in life, was disturbed by the racist comments from some of the students in her program. She reached out to the administration and helped them to develop a required anti-bias training for all admitted social work students.

Election 2020

Concern about the president’s and the Republican-led Senate’s racist actions and inactions affecting Black, Indigenous and people of color led some respondents to conclude that the best way to use our privilege right now is to actively work to defeat President Donald Trump and to flip the Senate to Democrats.

Donating

Since the time of slavery, white privilege has increased the earning power of white people. Many of my peers, who can afford to donate, suggested targeting their donations to organizations that are led by and benefit Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Organizations like The Movement Voter project financially support Black-led community organizing groups. These organizations benefit from long-term commitments of support.

Recognizing that we are living on stolen land, one friend suggested making donations to Black-Indigenous-led land restoration, as well as farms and agricultural cooperatives. Some examples of such organizations are Black Urban Growers, Soul Fire Farm, Standing Rock Sioux, and Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.

Donations to organizations working to end voter suppression can have a positive impact on preserving voting rights for Black, Indigenous and people of color. Diversifying legislative representation at all levels by contributing money to non-white Democratic candidates can add the voices of people who have been denied a seat at the legislative table.

Speaking up

The importance of taking risks to interrupt racist comments by those in our circles takes courage, but having difficult conversations with family members, coworkers and friends about race and privilege is an important ingredient in building a non-racist culture. Speaking up may feel risky, but remaining silent gives others passive permission to continue racist behaviors.

Several people emphasized the importance of starting by educating ourselves about white privilege and examining its pervasiveness and how it shows up in our own lives. We can then use what we’ve learned to educate others both within our networks and beyond.

Education requires acknowledging that everyone in our society has been exposed to “the poison of racism,” including ourselves. We need to teach by example, without preaching. We need to help people understand that acknowledging our racism does not mean we are white nationalists or members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Listening

Unearned privilege amplifies white voices and reinforces white dominance. Learning to include and really listen to the voices of those who have been silenced is an important step in letting go of privilege.

One person mentioned an experience at a Zoom meeting about racial issues. When asked to give advice on how white allies can be helpful, two Black women on the panel advised, “Listen more and talk less. Hear what we need first, and then offer your help.”

Listening also means being able to listen to the anger of Black, Indigenous and people of color, and accepting critical feedback.

What are your ideas for ending white privilege?

Sara Weinberger of Easthampton is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column. She can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.

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