Some thoughts on privilege

The house is so quiet, and the sun is slowly setting. Slow like molasses running down a slight decline on a cold day. Tom is in California, Nutmeg is out for his evening romp through the neighborhood, and the boys are asleep. Finally.

I am in PJs, a comfort made even more comfortable by virtue of also being in a just-right recliner under a lazy ceiling fan. We're five weeks shy of six months in this house, and it is finally and decidedly starting to feel like home. 

I'm happy but tired. Weeks like last one weigh heavily on my heart. I'm a lucky woman, blessed in so many ways. I ache for the people mourning the ones taken from them last Tuesday and Thursday and Saturday, and all the other days.

It is sometimes so difficult for me to figure out how to go about normally as if nothing has happened when in fact so much has. It is bizarre to go purchase a couch, fretting over the right color and the right fabric, when others are burying loved ones. Daily life often feels so important, so urgent, but perspective sometimes renders it almost silly.

I have never been much good at compartmentalizing anything and have often struggled to square what I have with what others don't. My family has worked so hard for their educations and successes, and yet our whiteness has helped at every turn. 

Papa, my grandfather, was a Sicilian immigrant, as poor as they come and with a mean hellion of a father to boot. He was the first in his family to attend college, an experience that was wholly against his father's wishes and made possible by his being a talented football player. And by being white. Even Italian white in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Papa lived in a bathroom in Tulane's stadium for a year, but at least he could play -he played in the first Sugar Bowl (1935) in which Tulane came from behind to win- and learn. Non-HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) didn't allow black students or athletes for another few decades. 

I recognize completely the many privileges that come with white skin. My whiteness doesn't shroud me in guilt but it does prompt in me a fierce determination to do something. To change the attitudes and biases that long ago became deeply entrenched, to help undo the systemic discrepancies in perception and treatment that were purposefully codified and which have unjustly benefitted whites at the expense of others: housing policies; school segregation; biases in the criminal justice and employment systems which have torn families apart and left so many with little mobility or financial safety net; to raise my children with an awareness of their privilege and a deep desire to make privilege a thing for all instead of some.

There remains too much denial about the woefully imbalanced scales between those with white skin and those with black and brown. Rectifying that asymmetry isn't a solution for all that ails our country, but it is an immensely important, crucially important, need. 

A friend of mine penned this poem today. I find it extraordinarily powerful and painful and moving. Thank you, Freddie Williams, for allowing me to share your words.

I'm a sin eater
Not by choice
By default
When you're the only black person in a white space that's what happens
My job is to assuage white guilt
Tell them it's OK,
Tell them I know they're a good person
But I can't do it anymore
I'm choking on the sin
Its too much
I can't breathe
And I never wanted this job in the first place
I just wanted a nice job so I can buy my family a nice house in a nice neighborhood
Didn't know I couldn't have one without having the other
I'm weighing now if it's worth it
I can't take the stares any longer
The sorry's
The How are you doing today
I want to work and go home
But I'm a Sin eater
So every white person in the office has to tell me their pain
How much they hurt
How sick they are
And then they can go home feeling better about themselves
But where does that leave me?