I have marinated in white, chauvinist, capitalist culture my entire life. That admission is a statement of fact. What’s harder to admit is how that culture has blinded and deafened and dumbed me so much that it is sometimes very difficult for me to see my own stupidity when I speak.
It happened last week.
I love checking out the late-night hosts for their spin on current events. Colbert was interviewing Stacey Abrams (It starts about minute two) about 45’s phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger. I watched how Stacey listened to Stephen’s quips about the situation. She smiled, almost laughing at times but she waited for the moment to take the wheel of the conversation and remind Colbert that Raffensberger may not have buckled to 45’s pressure but make no mistake, he is not a champion of voting rights in Georgia and cited what he has done to hinder people having their votes counted. Boom. No prolonged soapbox. Just a quick reality check.
I exclaimed to a dear one how smart, how articulate Abrams is.
He said, “Um, you know, your white privilege might be showing.”
I gasped. I started to protest. I shut up.
Of course, Stacy Abrams is smart and articulate and all those things that any well educated woman can be. Did I point it in the way that I did because she is Black? Was I exclaiming about it because I am white and oh so surprised?
Truth is, I don’t know. BUT I can definitely claim how privileged my words sound. And I can definitely claim how I am blind to this privilege.
In fact, I do it all the time. I exclaimed about this interview in the NYTIMES about Rev William Barber and his clarity of his thinking about poverty, race and politics. As if what? He wouldn’t? Did I say it that way because, on some level, I am surprised by people whose skin color is different from mine can have such clarity of thought?
But here’s the deal…Or at least I think it is the deal right now…Instead of getting all ashamed and defensive about my blinders and deafness and general soaking in white chauvinist capitalist culture, I can stumble forward, listening differently, opening my eyes more widely and speaking up not as an authority but as part of a bigger conversation. I can stop being surprised. I can be grateful that there is a new fabric of brilliance weaving itself into my consciousness. And I can welcome people’s nudges when my white privilege is showing.
*As the youngest in my bio-family, I was preverbal for many years. My sisters and my parents were a walking, talking tribe. Paragraphs and sentences ahead of me. Consequently, I became an exquisite listener. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t practice trying out my thoughts because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by saying anything less than perfectly. To express myself, I became a writer, carefully crafting thoughts and sentences and putting them out into the world. But even in that arena, I have been tentative. This series, for however long it lasts, is about me speaking up and thinking out loud.