My fellow white people, now is the time to truly examine white privilege 

Moving Forward

I'm stunned, furious, sick with anger.

As we all know, on June 17, Dylann Roof attended a service at Emanuel AME. After it, he shot and killed nine people.

Since this tragedy, I've had to remind myself again and again that tragedies like these are perceived differently by whites and blacks.

Take for instance my friend and colleague Consuela Francis, who recently wrote about the Mother Emmanuel shooting. Consuela is not only African-American, she heads the College of Charleston African-American Studies department. "[This] was not an unimaginable act committed by a lone mentally ill man. This was the predictable result of long-standing systemic racism that paints black people as usurping, free-loading, violent thugs," she wrote. "White people may be able to sustain the fiction that these are isolated incidents. But black people cannot. Our lives depend on recognizing the truth."

For many white people, these types of tragedies are not on their minds every single day. They do not live in fear of being killed by a white supremacist with a gun. They're white, after all; they don't know what it's like to be black. And so they simply shake their heads in sadness and move on.

During times like these, I'm reminded of a writer named Peggy McIntosh, who wrote the 1985 essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." The essay is about how easy it is for white people to dismiss racism, and in the paper, she demonstrates how whiteness is often invisible to white people. When I teach this essay to students, the white students in my class generally shake their heads and reject her central premise, but by the end of the semester virtually all them understand the truth of the McIntosh's argument. As for my African-American students, it should come as no surprise they don't need a semester of lectures and readings to accept McIntosh's profound essay as the gospel.

But McIntosh's essay isn't the only thing on my mind. Or even the most dominate. There is my daughter Maybelle. Over the last couple of days I've been fearful for her. She's only six and so vulnerable. My daughter doesn't know that I'm afraid, that this tragedy has chilled me to the bone. I hold her, I give her kisses, and she laughs.

However, Maybelle isn't facing the same kind of world that far too many African-American children face. She won't experience the kind of racism that people of color experience. And so I don't have to think about these things.

Conseula told us, "My girls' lives depend on calling a racist spade a racist spade when it prays with people before murdering them in their church." She said, "This country's inability to look that truth full on in the face is going to kill us all."

With this in mind, the time has come for all of us white people to recognize the toxic realities of racism in this city, this state, and our country. It is time to move forward — guided by fury and despair, yes, but moving forward nonetheless. And I hope you, my fellow white people, will join me.


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