I am a 43-year-old white male. For hundreds of years, guys with my skin color, similar Western European lineage, similar religious backgrounds, and usually right about my age have been in charge of the whole goddamn world. In 1492, we set sail from the old world. We conquered. We colonized. We stole this land from men, women, and children with different skin color, red skin. We brought with us men, women, and children with more melanin in their skin. We brought our own women for the reproducing and rearing children and the keeping of a new homestead.
This is the land that white hands stole.
This is the empire black hands built
These are the homes soft hands have made
Between the establishment of the first colonies along the Atlantic shoreline in the early 17th Century, and where we find ourselves today, a couple of decades into the 21st Century: Smallpox, French and Indian War, Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, 13th Amendment, Women’s suffrage, world wars, FDR, JFK, LBJ and 500,000 other horrible and terrific things. But most of them mundane: vanilla, saltine, plain… white.
I sometimes forget my privilege. I honestly rarely think about being white or even being a male. I can’t imagine what it must be like to worry – a palpable worry that we ALL KNOW is real – that I might be killed for the color of my skin. I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid to walk down the street at night alone or to have my heart rate increase with the pace of the steps of the man or men behind me. I can’t imagine the distrust I would have of me and people who look like me if I was Japanese American and had family live through the days of Internment Camps. I can’t even begin to imagine the life of a Somalian immigrant in the Twin Cities or a Syrian Refugee in Dearborn.
Growing up (relatively) poor doesn’t make me not white. Struggling with learning disabilities in school and getting government-funded free lunches doesn’t make me not white. Being attracted to both women and men doesn’t make me not white. In fact, it makes me suspect to some people, and it means nothing more than I’m just like everyone else to some other people. I have immense piles of student debt and not much to show for it. But, like… get in line with the rest of the country!
I think a lot of white dudes go through similar struggles and they forget. They forget the immense amount of privilege that they – we – carry in our very being. This is not an innate privilege, of course. Its is a product of a time, a place, a transatlantic slave trade, a world that I didn’t build.
But I’m here. I want to live a better life in this world, a fair one, a life in which I see the beauty in the wide spectrum of human beings around me. The differences in skin color and tone, and melanin distribution. The plethora of ethnic lineages, gender diversity, and an array of sexual orientations.
The goal of living “color blind” of not seeing differences, of saying “love is love” is in some ways like the old “eye for an eye” ethic of life, in that if we live a life that way, we all end up blind. We can’t see others when we can’t see beyond ourselves. Likewise, if we can’t even see ourselves, to begin with.