Saturday, September 15, 2012

Missing The Point: White Privilege Part 1

I was deeply saddened and angry by the Sikh Gurdwara (temple) shooting. I wrote the post I Wear a Kara in its wake. In the discussion that followed I understood that I didn’t quite fully achieve what I was hoping to.

How did I go astray? I focused time and energy on how Sikh’s are different than Muslims, instead of focusing on the real problems: racism, hatred and misunderstanding. In my own case, I was stifled by my own blind spot: white privilege.

Sikh Knowledge Quote
Twitter user @sikhknowledge sums it up for me

I spent time in my post on how Sikh’s are different. I never should have gone there. I’d like to say we’re all the same: people, families, trying to survive, trying to pray, celebrate life. I want everyone to be treated as equals to the point that I force myself to believe we are all equals – even though we’re not.

I wish the world where a place where all men were treated the same; all women were treated the same as men; all religions were seen as paths of love and a celebration of life with one another: but the world is not that place. Sometimes I want it so bad I try to believe that all men are equal (and all the rest above): but then I get my white privilege blind spot. The world is not an equal place. Further, I’m in the top dominant, privileged position.

To put this another way: I often forget that I’m married to a brown-skinned woman (for the past 17 years). I see her as my wife. I am able to forget that her skin is brown. She is often reminded that her skin is brown, by the society at large. To me it doesn’t matter because of my privilege: it doesn’t affect me. To her, society treats her differently, she feels the effects.

People of different skin color are treated differently. They are followed in stores; they are asked if they speak English (even when they’re speaking perfect unaccented American-English). They are dealt with suspicion, fear and uncertainty. I miss all of this for two reasons: first I don’t run into it myself, second it’s rare (but not unheard of) to have it occur when I’m around.

This is no different with religion. The dominant religion in this country is Christianity. If you’re not Christian, you may be feared, disrespected or misunderstood. The country, society, the whole system is geared around Christianity – in the holidays we as a nation celebrate, what times of day and day of the week set aside for prayer and the places to do so.

This is no different with other prejudices. It doesn’t make me a bad, evil person to not see the day to day struggles of others, but like zoning in a city, it’s partitioned away from my daily conscience life. It’s how we’re brought up, how we’ve learned – how we’ve programmed ourselves. It can be overcome, but it’s difficult.

This isn’t just an American problem, but a world-wide one. Travelling anyplace in the world, the white man is often treated specially. Whether it’s roots are in colonialism or elsewhere, I can’t say for certain. But the reality exists. Sometimes it backlashes against us: this is rare compared to how much it affects others. Understanding this can help you understand some of the anti-American sentiment (capitalism and globalization aside).

Starting to see white privilege is very difficult, because you’re trying to see something that for you until now hasn’t existed. Trying to see something you can’t see is hard. Once you start to see it, it becomes easier. At least I hope so, it’s still hard for me.

With all of my friends with different ethnicities, religions, gender preferences: it’s hard for me to see how the cards are stacked against them because I often don’t run into it. I’m in a more diverse group, in a multi-cultural marriage; I have bi-racial god children: and it’s difficult for me. Where does this all lead?

This is what leads to the mistrust, suspicion and eventually hate crimes that were the tragedy in suburban Milwaukee. People see a turban and think bad guy. They don’t see a turban and see a person. It’s irrelevant whether that person is Sikh, Muslim, Christian or something else. My practice of Vodou should be seen as a religion: not “Black Magic,” with Zombies. My wife should be seen as a woman: born in America she’s often asked where she’s from; a question I rarely get asked, if ever.

It may seem hard to unlearn what we have learned, but it can be done much easier than you think. The first step is awareness. The second is to stop seeing/treating/understanding people with disrespect.

We are different but these differences can enrich our lives. I can still get the door for a lady; I can wish a happy Ramadan to a fellow coworker. We all want to live our lives with respect and love. We all want to raise families freely. To do all of this without persecution: that is what America was founded upon.

It’s time we embrace these truths. When we come together and stand together as brothers, sisters, neighbors with those alike and different from ourselves: Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jew, Atheist, Vodou, Pagan, Gay, Straight, Young, Old, With Children, Without Children, Rich, Poor, Republican, Democrat, Progressive, Liberal; then we start to bridge the gaps we have made and start to truly heal. We cease to divide and become one.

Stop the hate speech please and please stop the religious intolerance.

Still denying white privilege? Here are some white privilege facts.

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  1. Urban, this post on White Privilege by you is so insightful and helpful. Thanks for making it easier for me to see this a little more clearly.

  2. Thanks Randall, I struggle with it myself. It's more difficult to understand something you often don't get faced with.