I like writing about racism.
It is a topic that inspires passion yet requires intellect. History, economics, politics, sociology, psychology and culture are all part of the analysis. An understanding is enhanced by reading such different sources as census data and James Baldwin. Best of all, each and every one of us has lived in America, and has had experiences that bear on the issue. Everyone has an opinion, even if it is seldom expressed.
Discussion about racism is evolving including language — the words that we use to talk about this most complicated of subjects. One of the new terms is “white privilege,” which was explored by Peggy MacIntosh in her 1988 book White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, as a set of unearned assets that white people can count on cashing in each day even as they remain largely oblivious to their advantage.
I think I understand the concept. I feel pretty comfortable in most situations although I do feel somewhat out of place in country clubs, expensive boutiques, gun stores and on farms. But I have never been stopped by the cops or followed in a store because I am white. I don’t really know what it feels like to be black, just as no African American really knows what it feels like to be white.
But I do think that being white is easier than being black in negotiating the difficult journey through life. Being a white male is even easier. As a general matter. Of course racism exists. White privilege is real even if that construct is not shared by millions of Americans.
Yet I don’t feel that guilty about my advantage. I had no control over the circumstances that brought sperm and egg together to cause me. But if I could eliminate racism with one of my three wishes, I would do so. Hey, I’ve tried. I voted for Obama twice. I have lived in Oak Park since 1976. I coached at the YMCA. I want to close the achievement gap. I’ve read lots of fiction and non-fiction books about the black experience and the lingering pernicious effects of slavery. I saw and promoted 12 Years A Slave. Trust me on this: millions of Americans have done less.
Of course I could do more, but I love spending time with my children and grandchildren, traveling, reading, going to movies and enjoying the years I have left.
And writing columns like this one.