The brutal murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, and ceaseless violence against countless other African-Americans serve to remind the world that racial injustices and inequities are alive and well in America, leaving many of us white people asking ourselves “what should I do, what can I do?”
As a white person in America, I believe that, as the great scholar Peggy McIntosh so aptly framed it, I carry an “invisible knapsack” of privilege, simply based upon the color of my skin. Because I am white, there are many automatic benefits I can count on each and every day. In fact, McIntosh identified 50 unearned privileges she enjoys as a white person that her African-American co-workers, friends, and acquaintances do not, simply based on race (see https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/mcintosh.pdf).
As white people, we must dive deep into this reality and examine the implicit and explicit personal, cultural and societal assumptions that routinely yield us unearned benefits and privileges. Toward that end, I have been incredibly fortunate over the past 30+ years to have engaged in a vast array of experiences and meaningful dialogues with African-Americans, whites, Hispanic/Latinos and other people of color about race, privilege and inequities that are literally baked into the laws, policies, and practices of our country.
Perhaps even more importantly, though, I have had the opportunity to engage in conversations over the past 7 years with my co-worker and colleague, Kingsley House’s Chief Operating Officer, Valerie Wheatley. As CEO and COO, Valerie and I meet at least weekly to discuss all things Kingsley House. In so doing, we frequently address developments in and around the agency that positively or negatively impact our work, our participants, staff and community. This includes public policies, societal and structural issues that may affect our strategic objectives as an agency and, most importantly, our program participants’ ability to succeed and thrive.
Valerie and I have also used this time together, as a black woman and white man, to talk about race and racism, and what it’s like to live in each of our skins here in America. These dialogues are often challenging, at times incredibly frustrating, but always genuine. No matter what, neither of us ever cuts and runs. We remain committed to doing our best to listen intently and try to really hear one another, and to be completely honest, even when it is painful.
These conversations have been some of the most important of my life, helping uncover my unconscious biases and unquestioned assumptions, and clear the fog of the “white lens” through which I see and interpret the world. Each time we talk, my lens is further refined and I am increasingly able to see in much deeper hues and tones, with a growing richness of color and contrast.
Don’t get me wrong, although continually improving, my “sight” is still far from perfect. I don’t believe it will ever be possible for me to completely decontaminate my “baked in” white way of seeing the world. But, thanks in large part to this ongoing “disinfecting” dialogue, I believe I am progressively becoming better equipped to make much more informed, thoughtful and reasoned decisions as a nonprofit leader, colleague, citizen, husband, father, family member, friend and human being. Even more importantly, though, working together with Valerie and our incredibly diverse and committed board and staff leadership team, partners and supporters, Kingsley House is actively engaged in eliminating the vestiges of institutional racism within our own organization, and identifying and attacking the individual, structural, and systemic racism that permeates our community, state and nation.