“Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz.“
…said by Bill O’Reilly Tuesday, July 26, 2016 on The O’Reilly Factor in response to Michelle Obama’s DNC speech
I am a 53 year old, educated, middle class, white, male citizen of the US. I pretty much can check every box of privilege available. The interesting thing is that for the majority of my life I didn’t walk around conscious of my privilege. In fact most of the time it feels like I’m just me, living my life, and doing the best I can in the world…just like every other person.
Except, I’m not like every other person.
This is the dark side of privilege, specifically white privilege. It can be transparent. I don’t mean transparent like I am bearing my soul to you. The transparency I’m talking about is like a fish swimming in the ocean unaware it is in water. The water is everywhere, all around it, but it has no idea the water is there and doesn’t see it.
So it is with white privilege. It is raised in a comfortable home, becomes well educated, secures a good job, raises children and provides opportunities for them, travels and explores the world, comes and goes as it pleases, all the while unaware of the sea of white privilege it swims in.
I do not know all the answers to the challenges facing us in the 21st century. I do know nothing will change unless we can have respectful, compassionate conversations together about tough, emotion-filled subjects like racism, inequality, prejudice, and discrimination.
We have to set our fear of one another aside, and choose instead to trust each other. We have to choose our ability to love over our ability to hate. We have to choose to take responsibility for our actions and our words. We have to choose to become different Observers of not only our world, but of ourselves.
I don’t know Bill O’Reilly. I don’t know Michelle Obama. I do know what each said in reference to the above quote. In defending his words Mr. O’Reilly tweeted he was fact checking Ms. Obama, and that is why he made that statement, “Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings…”
In my opinion, his words speak to the transparency of white privilege he lives in. His defense when challenged by others further revealed to me his unconsciousness of white privilege, and his unconsciousness as an Observer of himself. Ms. Obama acknowledged the sacrifice and determination that it takes for people to continue to try to make things better for everyone, so much so that a house built by black slaves could now be the same house that a black family, a black man serving as President of the United States, can be living in.
When I can’t see the place I am speaking from, it is very likely I will cause harm, hurt, or damage to another who doesn’t live within my own transparency. When Ms. Obama spoke, the realities of her life as a black woman in our country, and the black history she is part of, appeared completely lost by Mr. O’Reilly’s response. White privilege.
Being black in the US has a reality, and comes with a history, that as a white man I may never be able to comprehend, but I can try. I can talk to black people and ask what their concerns are. Ask what their hopes are; what their fears are? I can educate myself on issues of racial discrimination. I can ask better questions to gain understanding of what I currently have no knowledge.
Maybe some of the answers I get from my questions will be the same as my own, and maybe some of the answers will be quite different from mine. What strikes me most in this moment is that I actually have no clue what I will get. White privilege.
White privilege propagates itself when blind spots are allowed to remain to the realities people of color are dealing with, or have dealt with, daily in their lives that I, because I am white, never experience.
When the first response from a white person to “Black Lives Matter” is “All Lives Matter”, I believe there exists a blind spot created by white privilege. No one is in disagreement that all lives matter. (Well, I wish that was true but sadly I don’t believe we are there yet). However, for a white person to choose to not acknowledge, to not hear, to not pause, and to not ask what is happening that a group of black people feel compelled to make that statement, reveals a person living in transparency…a white privilege transparency.
So how do we become free of this transparency? It first requires some kind of “break” in it so we know it is there. Something must happen that jolts us and brings our awareness to it. In the last several months in the US we have had many “breaks” in the transparency of white privilege. From shootings, to protests, to Mothers of the Movement, to political platforms, to disrespectful and dis-compassionate public dialogue, we have seen many breaks in this transparency.
Right now it is time to become new Observer’s. As human beings we have the unique ability to consciously look at ourselves from “outside” of ourselves. We can effectively take a “third eye” view of ourselves and “observe” our actions and our words, as we do and speak them.
Being able to observe what we are doing and saying in the moment is just part of our unique human ability. We can also ask our “self” why we are doing and saying something. We can ask what beliefs we are holding that allow for, or do not allow for, us to do and say things. We can challenge where our held beliefs came from, how they are serving us in our present situation, and we can choose to change them if they no longer serve us in becoming the person we want to be.
Do you think it is impossible to change the Observer you are? Do you feel all your held beliefs are part, have been part, and always will be part of you? And maybe the million dollar question, “Do you believe you are right?”
What constitutes “right” of one thing over another, one belief over another, one person over another? Challenge yourself and ask who you would be right now if you had been born into another race, born into another country, born into another religion? What would be “right” for you in these circumstances? Is it a different “right” than you hold as you are now?
When we can change the Observer we are in the world we can change the possibilities available to us. Possibilities to create and effect new kinds of change to get new and better results for ourselves. We are one people, on one planet, and this planet is getting smaller with all of us here.
It’s time for big ideas to respectfully and compassionately be brought to the table that will serve all of us. Will you choose to become part of this great discussion?
I sincerely hope so.