“Nobody; I Myself,” the fifth story in Silent Girl, is narrated by a white woman married to a black man in the US in 1966. Young and idealistic, she struggles with the conflict between her empathy for blacks because of the injustice they suffer and her nascent belief that they share at least a part of the blame for their situation.
Growing up in the States at that time, I was deeply moved by that injustice and both hopeful and despairing about the country’s ability to effect lasting change. Later, as a woman trying to make it in the business world, I empathized even more with blacks: females were held back for reasons of gender as blacks were for reasons of race. It wasn’t fair (!!!) and I was all about fairness those days, despite my father having told me, “If I led you to believe life was fair, I’m sorry.”
Since then, much has improved for blacks (and women) but, as a society, we still grapple with how to provide equity for all, including blacks and other visible minorities, aboriginals, women, the disabled, gays, lesbians, and the transgendered —who have I forgotten? Some say we’ve gone too far to accommodate anyone who feels different and/or mistreated, that we’re encouraging too many folks to feel entitled to preferential treatment. Some are tired of what they see as attempts to make them feel guilty for not being among the disenfranchised. As a bonafide Libra, I tend to see everyone’s point and find it difficult to take a firm stand. (Is there a support group for Librans?)
Because of my fence-sitting proclivities, I was attracted to this article by Wendi Thomas about the 10th annual White Privilege Conference going on right now in Memphis, Tennessee. Under discussion at the conference is the question of how much difference it makes to your success in life to be part of the dominant group (in this case, Whites). As Thomas writes, “The conference is not about blaming white people, but raising awareness about privilege wherever it lies,” and that privilege is not just about race. You can be privileged because of gender, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness (is that a word?), beauty, wealth, etc. I like this extension of the definition because it encourages us to look at ourselves in a fuller way, not as simply “us” or “them.” I may be “disadvantaged” due to being female, old, and hard of hearing, but I’m privileged in other ways because I’m white, heterosexual, able-bodied (except for the old and hard of hearing parts), literate…and so many other things. If I were black, I’d still have literacy going for me. (And, according to a friend, I’m more privileged than she because I “have someone.” As that someone is Colin, I have to agree.)
By no means does this broader view take away from the reality that blacks, for example, are “twice as like to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be imprisoned compared with whites,” according to this Chicago Tribune article. We can find similar statistics highlighting the “cost” of being a woman, disabled, homosexual, or a member of another non-dominant group.
What it does say to me is that each of us can appreciate the abilities we have, admire those of others, and use whatever privilege we enjoy to create a society where the development of those abilities is not limited by dominant views of who is entitled to accomplish what. It doesn’t say that all will end up the same or that no one will suffer. Dad was right.