Historical context needed
Reading Sven Sonnenberg’s letter “Spare me your white guilt” (DN, nando.com/1z6) I was struck by the utter lack of historical context he presented, as if nothing happened in this country between the end of the Civil War and the author’s arrival in this country.
The many decades of the Jim Crow era may have been more brutal than slavery itself, and ensured that generations of African-Americans were left without voting rights, opportunity and dignity itself. Much of the civil rights movement occurred during my own lifetime, so this is no ancient history. Ask the McKissick family, whose members integrated so many schools here in Durham, why they felt their own middle-class existence didn’t exempt them from fighting for the rights of friends and neighbors less well-off. They did it for the same reason as the many white people who joined the cause: the systematic and brutal suppression of a race of people is WRONG. No other reason is needed.
It took a legion of legal decisions and many hard-fought congressional acts to end the worst of the abuses. But for the millions of poverty-stricken blacks in the South opportunities were slow to appear, and that struggle for equal-footing continues to this day. Mr. Sonnenberg is either unaware or apathetic to this bit of very real history.
In my experience “White Privilege,” has been a term bandied about by conservatives to vilify liberals for hazy reasons. I have never seen a soul even hint at taking some opportunity away from a white person, simply to share them. And no one insists anyone feel “White Guilt.” Again, that seems to be an invention of the right-wing victim complex.
Mr. Sonnenberg works hard to disguise any racism on his part, but the overall tone is revelatory, The hint that freed slaves didn’t do well in a society of self-reliance (shiftlessness), and the stylish-again Confederate myth of Northern lust for cotton. Or maybe the story of the house full of future black felons and drug addicts, but for the one lucky soul sent to live with noble Southern kin. Shamefully there is a new movement afoot to deny minorities their voting rights. Guess who is behind that disgrace? Guilty White Privileged Men.
White privilege simply is
Sven Sonnenberg displays a poor understanding of the concept of “white privilege” (DN, nando.com/1z6).
This concept is not intended to make whites feel guilty (although, unfortunately, some people use it that way). Nor is it meant to suggest that all white folks have it easy while all black folks must struggle. It does not suggest that every white person is better off or deny that many whites have worked long and hard for their success.
The word “privilege” is unfortunate because it suggests a benefit that only white people have been given. That’s not true at all – white privilege is simply something that pervades our society, it’s basically being treated the way all people should be treated simply because of having white skin. It is no one’s fault, it is not something that we white folks planned or enjoy on purpose, and it is not something to feel guilty about. It simply is.
Some examples are minor, such as being able to easily buy a Band-Aid that matches my skin and to have free motel shampoo that suits my kind of hair. Others are much more serious.
When I am called for jury duty I don’t worry about being disqualified because of my color, and if I am on trial for a crime I know that most or all of the jury will look like me. When stopped by police I am not concerned about being mistreated, and when walking on a city street I do not see people crossing over to avoid me. I am not followed by department store security, I know my business loan application will be handled fairly, and when house shopping I do not fret about the welcome I might receive in some neighborhoods. I can wear baggy pants and a hoodie and although people might think I am a doofus they will not assume I am a thug. No one thought that my position as a university professor was due to “special treatment,” it was assumed that I was qualified.
All of these are things we white folks take for granted, as well we should, but some of our fellow Americans cannot. This is white privilege, and while it’s nothing to feel guilty about, it is something to be aware of if we want a better and more just society.
The race statistic
Can we redirect the conversations about race?
It’s not often that a complex problem can be summed up by a single statistic, but race is one of them. The statistic is that 72 percent of black children are born out of wedlock (whites are under 30 percent), and it drives every other issue.
No culture can flourish without a stable family system. The Moynihan report (The Negro Family: The Case For National Action) – by far the most rigorous study then or now – reached that seemingly obvious conclusion in 1965 and reversed the widely held notion that economic conditions determined social conditions. The report concluded that “at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. It is the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community at the present time.”
Back then, the black out-of-wedlock birthrate was 25 percent. Yet the topic is never mentioned by leaders of either white or black communities. Some conservatives like to quote the statistic that with about 13 percent of the population, blacks commit almost 50 percent of crime and overwhelmingly occupy most prisons. But no one notes that this is an effect, not a cause. These adjunct statistics also lead to off-ramp issues like banning profiling, which, for Muslims as well as blacks, is simply wrongheaded – you don’t look for apples in the pickle barrel.
A culture can only be changed from within and it takes more than one generation. Perhaps a look at simple, objective numbers could engender productive restraint and redirect some of the billions spent on the problems toward the cause.
Bridge to the future
In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that by 2025 the workforce in America and the United Kingdom will be significantly impacted by artificial intelligence and other technologies, predicting that while nearly 50 percent of all jobs could disappear, many new jobs will be created.
The Digital Bridge Project is one way the Durham County Library is helping people prepare for future educational and employment opportunities. The project, a partnership between the library, the Durham Housing Authority and WiderNet, is designed to help DHA residents become more tech-savvy and computer literate.
Funding for the project comes from The State Library of North Carolina which awarded the library a $25,000 grant for staff and volunteers to teach basic computer and job seeking skills, initiate and support STEM programming for children, and teach teens to build a network hub for their community. Participants will be able to check out MiFi and specialized eCollections in order to continue their work at home, and will have access to assistance in purchasing or building a personal computer.
The writer is the director Bragtown Family Literacy Center, a branch of the Durham County Library.
On Saturday evening, August 22, I attended the performance of the Paperhand Puppet Intervention at the Forest Theater in Chapel Hill (DN, nando.com/1vb).
During the almost two-hour performance I questioned why I have paid well over $100 to attend Broadway theater? For a $15 donation I watched an amazing production of puppeteers who created poignant scenes on topics ranging from childhood dreams, to divorce, old age, our changing planet, and much more. The music, costumes, creative masks, and scenery all added up to make a memorable evening.
If you have a chance to see this group of performers you must go.
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