Speaking of -isms. It’s racism, people.

Primary Source:  Amanda Toler Woodward, July 8, 2016


As I write this, I’m sitting in rural Finland enjoying a lovely view of barley fields and peacefully grazing horses (and rain).  As I write this, all hell is breaking out at home – again. Two more black men killed by police in as many days, violent protests – again.

I’m in a privileged position here thousands of miles away from home.  With a click of a button I can avoid the news and concentrate on 20 hours of daylight, hot saunas, cold cold well water, the 2016 Wife Carrying World Championship (yes, it’s a thing, look it up), and good food (lots of food).

Oh, but wait.  I’m in a privileged position all the time.

Because I’m white.

The last (and only!) time I got pulled over for speeding, I was never asked to get out of the car.  I didn’t have any reason to worry when they scanned my plate. There weren’t any outstanding warrants, no unpaid child support, no chains of institutional racism dragging me back down every time I thought I had a foot back on the shore. I even managed to avoid a (completely justified) ticket after I widened my blue eyes just so, cocked my head a little to the side, and dredged up a hint of my southern accent.

It never even occurred to me to fear for my life.

You know why?  Because I’m white.

I get that there are white people who are poor and black people who are rich. Of course there are white men with outstanding warrants and unpaid child support.  Of course there are white people who struggle to get by and are knocked down by forces that are out of their control.

But even the poorest white person is privileged in this country just because of the color of their skin.

For all our advances, we’re a racist country. Period. Full stop. And we always have been. Our hallowed institutions and the buildings that house them were built on the backs of black slave labor and that has colored (pun definitely intended) our national psyche.

The poorest white person can walk through a white community not their own without fear of being stopped or shot. The poorest white person can be stopped for a burned out brake light and at least have a hope of talking their way out of trouble. At a minimum, they’ll to be politely handcuffed and gently helped into the back of the police car when probable cause for that is discovered.  They’ll make it to the jail in one piece and they’ll leave the jail alive.

Because, no matter what they’ve done – even if it’s shooting a crowd of innocent people with a weapon they had no business owning – they’re white.

The dangerous, armed black man trope has been so thoroughly pounded into our brains from the first moment black men were dragged here against their will that even those of us who recognize our white privilege have a hard time shaking it.

In the last couple of days, I’ve seen pleas for black allies to stand up and do more than share memes (or blog posts) and then go back to our morning coffee.

Black allies – that means me, the privileged white person.  

And yes, you’re right.  I need to do more than just cry with you, but . . .

But, what?  I feel impotent. Helpless. Lost. Scared. Poor me.

The thing is, if I really want to, I’ll figure it out.  If I really want to, I won’t just post this blog written in a moment of desperate anger and then go back to my previously scheduled, privileged, white life.

Oh, wait.  Is that a cat video I haven’t seen yet?  I’ll get back to you in a few.

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Amanda Toler Woodward
Amanda Toler Woodward is an associate professor in the MSU School of Social Work. Her goal is to share reflections on a wide range of topics related to aging research, social work, academia, and whatever else catches her fancy.
Amanda Toler Woodward

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