White Power and Privilege
by Sr. Brenda Walsh, Racine
In recent times, part of the effort to address racism in our society centers
around the issue of white power and privilege. We are part of a culture of
privilege that Allan G. Johnson, Ph.D, describes well in his book entitled
"Privilege, Power and Difference." The book has been selected as one that many
individuals and groups in our Racine community are invited to study and share.
It recognizes that white people often carry unearned benefits, simply based on
the color of their skin. There is a hidden belief that white people are more
competent, capable, intelligent and reliable than people of color. White
cultural values are seen as normal. We need to recognize this cultural trend and
then work to change it.
We recall the many ways we are blessed with a good education, preparation for
employment and opportunities to have many connections locally, nationally and
globally. As we grow in our awareness, we are reminded that power and privilege
are never for ourselves alone. When we work with struggling and powerless
people, we must remember it is their goals, their hopes that we are helping to
accomplish and not our own. We are called to help the people we serve to clarify
and name their own hopes and also to help them accomplish them and celebrate
Recently the Editor of "Fellowship of Reconciliation" gave us permission to
share some ideas garnered from Liz Walz’s experience in anti-racism training.
The article appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of "Fellowship of Reconciliation"
(winter 2008 www.forusa.org).
Here are the suggestions:
- Learn. Make a commitment to receive ongoing training to learn about
internalized white superiority and to support organizational transformation.
- Reflect: Keep a journal. Pain, anger, fear are part of this journey and
part of being human. Observing yourself and your reactions without judgment
will increase your internal freedom and capacity to engage in action.
- Relate. Go to events organized by people of color which are open to all.
Take time to visit with people while you are there.
- Support. Join or form a support and action group that bring people
together for ongoing sharing, role playing and planning.
- Act. Incorporate actions accountable to people of color into your
existing activist work – organize within your peace group or faith community
to direct some amount of the energy toward struggles for jobs, healthcare,
prison and legal-systems reform and current local issues as they arise.
- Contribute to campaigns that work for racial justice such as the NAACP.
- Learn. Listen to radio stations which feature black, Asian Pacific
Islanders and Latino/Hispanic programming. Recognize the variety of
differing experiences of persons of color born in America.
- Learn. Become familiar with the history of American racism and how it is
still playing out in New Orleans.
(When you use these suggestions, please give credit to the
author listed above.)
The question before us is "Can we create an inclusive, pluralistic society
for the good of all?" We need to realize that rules and laws that were created
by humans can also be changed by humans. We must also remember that the groups
that have power and control cannot be the only ones to benefit from the systems.
It will take a consistent effort to use the gifts and perspectives of all people
and allow all to benefit from decisions made. How much do we care about the
quality of our lives together? The US Bishops Pastoral on Racism offers this
motivation: "There must be no turning back along the road of justice, no sighing
for bygone times of privilege, no nostalgia for simple solutions from another
age. For we are children of the age to come, when the first shall be last and
the last first, when blessed are they who serve the Lord in all his brother and
sisters, especially those who are poor and suffer injustice. Another world is
possible. Let us continue to work for racial just in all spheres of life.