Everyone has prejudices. There is a natural tendency to gravitate to groups with the same traits, ethnicity, and values. We often pre-judge or discriminate when characteristics differ from our own. This can lead one to label those outside their group as superior or inferior and thereby creating personal biases.
Privilege gives the advantage of wealth, education, or social status due to the circumstances of birth. If you are born into an educated, wealthy, or powerful family, you may have greater access to selective colleges, military academies, jobs and political office than minorities or those on the lower end of the economic ladder. Navigating the complexities of everyday life, including the judicial system, becomes less challenging for you.
Appearance can also give someone an advantage and provide access. The taller, thinner, and younger you are, the more desirable you become. Stereotypes of what is beautiful and good are reinforced by the media and Hollywood. White privilege is specific to skin color. Yet, there is no scientific evidence that skin color makes you more intelligent, more beautiful, or better than others since the DNA of every person on the planet is 99.9% the same.
Not too long ago, black and white children could not be educated together and interracial marriage was illegal. Today, mothers and fathers of black sons at any level of income or celebrity must still have the uncomfortable conservation of what to do when stopped for a minor traffic violation to avoid racial profiling or how to dress in public to deflect stereotypes.
Most people do seek positive change. A black friend is working hard to turn “racism to gracism.” I love the term she uses for by the grace of God it could be me or my child. She is having community conversations on line to explain the black experience in suburbia. Can we really know how it feels unless you have walked in another’s shoes or lived in their skin? Brought up poor and illiterate in an urban environment, I have walked in the shoes of many poor minorities but there was one big difference — the color of my skin. I quickly saw that white Americans were more privileged. Poverty was overcome though a public education. But my path was made easier by the advantage of blending into a predominantly white society.
America’s journey has been tortuous, and the wounds still show. Wounds are made more painful as we witness each new act of bigotry, injustice, or violence. These incidents are stark reminders of the work ahead for all of us. The President of Morehouse College recently stated “our nation is now facing dual crises of health and race. Both are crippling this country. We recognize the legitimacy of the anger; but we must resist destructive impulses that turn neighbor against neighbor and set communities ablaze.”
When we all need to pull together, these events pull us apart. Most now recognize that substantive police reforms are needed due to misuse of justice; but defunding law enforcement is not sensible or desirable. Where would hate or other crimes be reported? Many suggest that more funding is needed rather than less. Police are not trained to be psychiatrists and drug treatment interventionalists. Mental health professionals should be specially trained and deployed to work alongside police departments to defuse volatile situations much like paramedics responding to accidents.
Furthering understanding, compassion and tolerance
Americans can and should do better. We do not have to repeat the sins of the past. There is no quick solution for these long-standing issues. Time and energy are required to change. Leaders in industry, education and government should bring their people together to communicate and connect as they may be silently hurting.
Most importantly is the acknowledgement that our children will grow up to be those that create the environment we wish to see in our institutions. It starts with what a child is taught in the home and around the dinner table. Exposure to diversity in childhood reduces sensitivity to racial differences in adulthood and develops greater understanding, compassion, and tolerance. We can also seek out and increase contact with members of other racial groups and learn about each other. We are not born being a racist. It is learned so it can be unlearned if we say it is not OK. If you see someone mistreated do not be silent, say something. Do not ignore it or avoid it.
America remains a beacon of hope. People still risk everything to come here, many escaping unimageable hardships and tyranny in their homeland. So let’s honor not only the birth of our republic but those who fought to ensure that it lived up to its promise: that all people are created equal and would be treated equally.
Toni Boucher is a Connecticut businesswoman, former state senator and state representative.