Naiveté Revealed

I live in Charlottesville, VA. Our lives will never be the same after August 11 and 12. For nearly a month, I have batted around what happened and struggled with so many emotions. I will share more on the feelings of horror, loss of security and feelings of being violated another day.

Today, I want to focus on something that I didn’t understand or really believe until these events. White privilege. I’d heard the term. I’d read the statistics. I thought I understood it on a high level. I realize now, I don’t and can’t truly understand it. I’m a white woman who was raised going to the ballet and fine dining. For a long time, I didn’t know there was a problem.

A very dear friend of mine tried to help me understand this issue years ago. She’s a black woman married to a white man. One time, we visited Washington, DC together with my small children. I was truly oblivious to what happened. The way people looked at her. The assumptions people made. The way people treated her.

I was unbelievably stressed and it showed. I was in my own world — used to fending for myself and taking care of my children, on my own. At the time, I had the attitude that I had to do it alone. At one point, I was weaving my way through crowds exiting the metro, one child on each side, my friend trailing behind. I was only thinking about getting out of a busy, potentially dangerous place with my two small children. I wasn’t used to people helping me and didn’t think about her alone behind us.

My going at it alone made her feel like I thought she was less than us. She said it looked like she was the black nanny. Of course, I’d never thought of it that way. It simply didn’t cross my mind. She tried to explain to me how she’s treated differently. I remember thinking that she was overly sensitive, that when you look for the bad, that’s what you see. I remember thinking that it was if she had a chip on her shoulder. I regret those feelings and views. I had no way on knowing what she experienced. I had no way to walk in her shoes.

I’ve NEVER been the only white person in a class, movie, church or event. I’ve NEVER had to worry about moving into a neighborhood and not fitting in. I’ve NEVER had to worry that I would be profiled and stopped because I didn’t “belong” in an area of town. I’ve NEVER had to tell my son how to behave if he’s stopped by a police officer. I’ve NEVER had someone assume I wasn’t as valuable, smart or worthy simply because of my skin color. I’ve had white privilege my entire life and I never knew it.

Now that I have this awareness, I don’t know what to do about it. I’m not sure how to change things. I do know there is no going back to being naïve, and I don’t want to. I’d like to see the world for what it is and I want to be a part of the solution. I just don’t know how, but I do know that being aware is the first step. Talking about it is another. Confronting it when we see it, in a safe manner, is a third. And finally, listening and BELIEVING others’ perspectives is critical. No one can tell me what I experience. How can I possibly think I can judge someone else’s? I hate that it took something so horrific as August 11 and 12 to make me see things more clearly, but I’m glad the rose-colored glasses are off. We all need to wake up to what’s been happening for years.

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