Odd reality: on racial matters, I don't require allegiance from friends or family. My relations - both kith and kin - span the racial and political gamut, so if I expect to stay in relation, there are several from whom I simply don't hope for much. That having been said, while there are some for whom tough racial conversations are too much, there are others with whom I am impressed and to whom I am grateful. I speak especially of white allies - folks who have every invitation to blissful, ignorant privilege, but who insist on moving through their privilege and into solidarity, understanding, voice and action.
Over the last months I have been commenting on the neighborhood treatment of black male youth. My commentaries were inspired by incidents with my own son - incidents that were infinitely less horrific than the current tragic circumstance surrounding the murder of Trayvon Martin. All the time that I have spoken up and spoken out, I have been encouraged by an overwhelming majority of my neighbors of various backgrounds. White neighbors who step into difficult conversations and are open to the possibility that racial biases are still present, powerful and dangerous are especially important. The reality is that they enjoy more space to call it like it is and yet be heard without suspicion or resentment.
The greatest U.S. example of this is, of course, that of Harriet Beecher Stowe and her classic Uncle Tom's Cabin. The serial story turned novel wasn't perfect, but it was critically important. Near immediately translated into dozens of languages, and second only to The Bible in sales, this book turned northern public sentiment against slavery. The engaging book drew northern Christian readers off the fence and invited them into to the fold of those actively and vocally opposing the enslavement of African descended people. Of course it could go without saying that Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas and other Blacks risked more and took bolder stands. But their white allies were critical as well. Even when putting less at risk, they likely had broader impact. It may seem perverse, but it is simply another odd aspect of our racial order.
Given all this, we can ask two questions of ourselves. The first is this: "What privileges - even if often unacknowledged - do you benefit from?" In my case, I am a light skinned, educated, heterosexual, African American male who was born a citizen of the United States. This embodiment and identity carries great privilege as well as leaves me open to some expressions of intended or unintended prejudice. The second question is: "what do you do with your privilege?" In the last months, many of my neighbors having taken the opportunity to stand for nurturing neighborhoods instead of creepy surveillance neighborhoods - and to stand for kids generally. Many of them, white and richly privileged, have acknowledged that race and racial biases likely account for many of the surveillance patterns and assumptions that characterize our neighborhood message boards and Facebook pages. Importantly, when these white folk call out problems, they often have more credibility than me. They are assumed to be unbiased observers, unlike myself. Their whiteness has them viewed as neutral and unbiased; while my blackness has me read as biased. In short, their alliance is critical. Things that take me months to move forward, they can move forward with a single well placed utterance. So to my white allies, thank you. We'll call your work the honorable deployment of white privilege. Now please don't rest on these laurels. I now ask: "what more can you do?" Or better yet given your privilege, how about this: "what more should you do?"
This post is dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Benjamin Martin, to the hope for justice, and to the hope for whatever measure of solace is humanly possible for his mom and dad.