Last week, I was looking for a seat in the gate area of a busy airport. I wanted a place with empty chairs surrounding. I wasn’t seeking to interact or notice anyone else. And, then it happened.
Across the aisle, a white man in his 70’s fussed with his items. Saying something to a 30-something white woman with headphones plugged into her electronic device, he waited for her head nod and then walked away. His laptop and cell phone connected to the outlet below the seat. His dark jacket was neatly folded over the devices. His thin, black briefcase placed on the seat next to the devices.
My eyes followed him as he disappeared around the corner from the gate area. I could see his cell phone from under his coat buzzing with activity. It looked like a text conversation, yet he was not present. My eyes scanned the area and kept looking in the direction of the man’s disappearance.
The woman never looked up.
The man returned with napkins in hand. A red spot on his trousers was visible, probably ketchup. He thanked the woman and placed his briefcase on the ground. His name and MD credentials were embroidered on the outside flap. But, really the embroidery was white privilege. She trusted him because he was an older, white man.
I want to be an ally who continues to be aware of white privilege and to continue to change towards justice and equality. So what do I need to do?
Become aware of and challenge racial privilege in daily life.
In the airport, I watched the situation unfold. While, I could make myself think I watched with academic curiosity, by not responding or notifying the gate attendant, I too entered into the white privilege agreement. I imagined what I would have said if the man asked me.
Engage in authentic interactions about race.
The next day, I was the only customer at my local post office. The two employees, both women, one black and one white, were engaged in a tense conversation. I heard a reference to carrying a gun and the shooting in Dallas.
“I have never thought that people would treat you differently than me.”
“Of course, you don’t think people treat me different!” rebuffed the Black worker who was helping me.
“It’s your lived experience,” I said to her.
“Right!” she told me before repeating the words to her coworker.
My words weren’t unique. But I, as a white person, wanted her to know that she did not have to defend herself.
“And, there it goes again,” she said looking at me.
“What goes?” I asked.
She then explained that the white customer now being helped by her co-worker never let her handle her credit card. The customer handed the card to her coworker without hesitation.
“And, if you tell someone, they think you imagine it,” I responded.
“Exactly,” she said as I handed her my credit card.
Invite conversation about race. Ask how others are doing.
Today I began a consultation with a childcare leadership team by asking, “What came with you into this meeting today?” I started by talking about writing this blog post on white privilege. The only ground rule for this conversation? Speak from the position of “I.” Witness each person’s experience as he or she describes.
While we may not always have the right words or know how to enter the conversation, showing our compassion and empathy builds a connection. We can all acknowledge the humanity of children who have been killed, witnessed others being killed or have lost a parent.
Protect children from things they are too young to understand.
“Little bunnies have big ears!” is the phrase I use to remind adults that children are always listening. The conversations, emotions, and experiences of racial injustice and violence are complicated for adults. Children look towards adults for safety, trust, and sensitivity. When adults have big emotions in the presences of children, their sense of security and confidence in others is threatened.
- To be free from adult conversations, news programs, or other images that they are too young to understand.
- To be reminded that adults will always protect them and that they are safe.
- To be told that when adults have big feelings, there are other adults available to help. It is not their job to help their caring adults.
Each of us has a role in creating a peaceful and accepting world. We must protect children from unnecessary suffering. We can look for everyday opportunities with our families, co-workers and communities for conversations about injustice. We must make connections that build respect, show compassion and demonstrate our humanity.