Monday, February 24, 2014

White Privilege: The Biggest Social Justice Issue of our Time

On Saturday, February 22nd at the Silver Spring Civic Building (where else right?) the African American Democratic Club held the first annual State of Black Montgomery Conference.  To see who was there follow this link:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdfriendofhillary/sets/72157641388925323/
(Photos by Edward Kimmel).

I was asked to share my perspective on Montgomery County's biggest social justice issue.  To say it again-- my answer was white privilege.  It certainly was not easy for me to say something like that in a room that included a significant number of our white sisters and brothers.  Love and hope compelled me to do so.

As I uttered the words white privilege everyone (and I mean everyone!) in the room appeared to lapse into a momentary state of shock.  From where I was sitting at the front of the room I could see the look of sheer dismay and panic on the faces of folks in the audience.  I discerned that white folks might have felt indicted or attacked and that black folks might have felt unsteady and unsafe--primarily because the traditional power brokers in the room were being threatened.  After a momentary pause I then added a clarifying statement saying, "I'm talking about white privilege-- not white people."  Folks relaxed a little-- but not much.

When invoking this question about the biggest social justice issues of our time the response is typically something related to what I call "gapology"-- the achievement gap, the wealth gap, the health gap, the incarceration, gap, etc.  To be sure these are all serious issues, and if they persist, they will seriously undermine the cohesion of our community and the vitality of our democracy.

I will admit that white privilege is not a traditional social justice issue-- and certainly not one that we talk about openly in the public square;  however I will argue strongly that it is at the very root, and in many ways stands as the genesis of most if not all of the social justice issues that we face in our county and country today.  It is no coincidence (as I cited at the conference) that the two groups of color who have been in this country the longest (Native Americans and Black folks) are doing the worst across every measure of socioeconomic well-being.  The question is why?  We all know the answer-- as painful as it might be to say it.

Montgomery County is just the kind of place (I hope) where we can do something about this.  The first step is to courageously name this insidious threat-- and to do something about it.  To be clear however--it is our white sisters and brothers who will have to bear the primary responsibility of eradicating this enemy from our midst-- for the good of all of us.  Black folks can do no more to help you on this one-- indeed we've tried!  Know however that we will be cheering you on, and praying for you and your liberation from it.  To the extent that you are able to do so, we too, our county, and perhaps the entire country will also be freed.  Be informed though, while you're working on white privilege, we'll be working on what it has done to us.  This is work where black folks will have to play the primary role in healing ourselves.  No doubt there is work for us to do together-- but these things must be at the top of our respective lists.

Here's a suggestion to get you started.  Convene a State of White Montgomery Conference-- invite us and everyone else too!  Just like we did.

I'm also going to reach out to a few white friends of mine to see if they would be willing to share their own perspectives on white privilege here on the blog or via some other medium.  If you're reading this, and you would like to do so-- or if you know somebody else who will-- drop me a line.

In closing, many thanks to the African American Democratic Club and all of your partners for organizing such a tremendous event.  I know you said this will be an annual event, but based on the response I wouldn't wait until next year-- I'd do something sooner.

For the love of Montgomery County-- Ubuntu Happens Here.