I am indebted to Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s YouTube video, “Deconstructing White Privilege,” for the inspiration for this post.
In her presentation, Dr. DiAngelo speaks about being born into a White neighborhood, going to school in a White neighborhood, studying with White classmates, learning from White schools and White teachers, playing with White friends, worshipping in White churches, working in White businesses, and one day dying in a White community and buried in a White cemetery. In short, she was segregated in her whiteness. And not one single person or mentor who guided and loved her ever conveyed that this segregation was any loss for her. There was no inherent value in the perspective or experiences of people of color. If her government, schools, teachers, parents saw value in those perspectives, she would have been given those perspectives. They did not see value.
In a previous post I spoke about my relatively humble coming-of-age years on a small farm, and yet still benefited from white privilege.
A funny thing happened as LPs took over singles as the source of most listening in the 1960s. Somehow, in the mid-60s, this white farm boy took a liking to Wes Montgomery and Oscar Peterson LPs. I still have them. Of course, I noted their color, but it was no passion on my part to integrate into the black music culture. I simply liked the soft jazz genre. And before you give me any kudos for this, as a vocalist in my younger years, I also had all of the Andy Williams LPs. Talk about vanilla. My Moon River was the Eel River next to that small farm.
I want to talk about segregation — White segregation. Historically Whites have segregated themselves from Blacks in ways that has been well documented — governmentally, economically, educationally, residentially, religiously, maritally and culturally.
I am purposely turning the systemic use of segregation on its head.
This blog will argue that Whites are big losers in systemic racism — more than most of us have ever considered.
As I mentioned in my previous post “Was I a Closet White Racist?” my racial awareness leapt out of the gate as a young man in the late 1960s while traveling internationally with a multi-national, multi-racial group. But, I cannot think of anything I did in the next fifty years to plus that early racial and cultural immersion, other then infrequent travel and some arts attendance. Loving Motown and occasionally looking in on Soul Train early on is not immersion.
Every race and culture has its own language, food, sports, style, history, lore, music, and joie de vive. In the United States, Black history literally began in 1865 with names, marriages, birthdays, families and family trees. Black people were cheated out of the previous nearly 250 years. They did not exist. When considering what Black people have done in the United States over 150 years while still victims of systemic racism, their accomplishments and contributions are amazing. Think what might have been if they had been equal.
The CNN Anthony Boudain’s series, No Reservations, introduced us to places we have never seen or experienced. I often wanted to carry his luggage. He had a lot of quotes I took to heart. Here is one of them:
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open up your mind, get off the couch, move.”
It is not that Whites do not move. We travel, a lot. We take cruises, road trips, trains, pictures and videos. We taste foods. But, we do not immerse. We are fly-by, sail-by and drive-by tourists. I am guilty of this. Granted, it is hard to immerse on vacation, especially when in the middle of a career and I just wanted to veg out.
My wife and I collect dolls from our travels. So far we have dolls from Caribbean Island Nations, the Congo, Cuba, Estonia, Ethiopia, Florence, Italy (The David), France, Greece, Hawaii, Hopi Nation, Kenya, Nepal, New Orleans, Panama and Spain.
We have prints on our walls from Arles and Roussillon in Provence, Cuba, Hawaii, Italy, Napa Valley, New Orleans, Paris, plus original oils and watercolors from family and friends. We have a wall just for African art. Yes, you can say it — segregated. But for us, it is a way to focus our memories and stories when guests ask about the art and the story behind it.
We go to plays and musical revues, like Ain’t Misbehavin’, Ain’t Too Proud, the story of the Temptations, and Latin History for Morons.
I have experienced being one of the few white faces in Afghanistan, Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda — often an uncomfortable feeling. Try it sometime.
Most of us in our elder years cannot move to another country, though we have that option. Children and grandchildren and inertia keep us tethered.
We are fortunate to live in Southern California. Name a race or culture and it is here, with its language, religion, music and food. We are surrounded by it, yet we live most of our life in a segregated White community. What the fuck is wrong with us? Why do we do this to ourselves?
To their credit, the Los Angeles Times recently publicized lists of Black-owned restaurants and businesses. Our continued lockdown keeps my wife and I from patronizing some of the restaurants. I love Jazz and the Blues but I have yet to source and patronize a single Black jazz or blues club in Southern California.
One of life’s highlights came while I was commuting to Houston on a consulting project in the mid 1990s. I would frequent this small jazz club (maybe ten small tables) and many a night after a meal would sit at the bar sipping Jack Daniels. One night a Black baritone singer, well-known in Houston, was the featured entertainment, and backed by a small combo. At a break I asked him if he knew God Bless the Child. Of course he did. I knew by then that the song was popularized initially by Billie Holiday, but Blood, Sweat and Tears launched it into notoriety. He sang it. It brought tears. It was that good.
Education breeds knowledge and familiarity. Familiarity breeds connectivity, Connectivity breeds friendship. Friendship breeds trust. Trust breeds equality. Equality breeds a fairer life for all, and the enrichment of sharing our joie de vive.
Are we better as White people by segregating ourselves from people of color? I know we are not.