But that was so long ago

I am a 60-year-old white woman living outside a very small, very rural village in a very, very white part of the world.

I am uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable with the comfort of my life. I am uncomfortable with the obvious white privilege that surrounds me and my community.

You may choose to misunderstand me, but I’d rather you didn’t. There is enough of that already.

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I’m not ungrateful. I’m not unappreciative of the relative ease of my life, with the advantages I didn’t understand were advantages, with the relative safety in which my children grew up in this America.

I’m uncomfortable with it all, knowing it is an accident of birth, the luck of being born a member of the skin color which has dominated this land, this society, and our educational system for generations. I didn’t earn it. I just got it. I’m uncomfortable knowing there are many people who look like me, who accidentally were born into a white world where they belonged, who don’t understand.

Our schools taught me that America was a good land, a just land, a free land. I was taught about the mistakes made, about the displacement of the natives here, about the enslavement of the people brought here from other lands. But it was taught in a that-was-so-long-ago kind of way. And certainly with little detail to create understanding and empathy, or sense the prejudice that might still exist. We were better than that now, surely.

My suburban neighborhood in Ulster County had no minority families. The public schools I attended were diverse, but my parents sent me to Coleman, the county’s private, Catholic high school when I reached my freshman year. It was overwhelmingly white. I didn’t ask myself why. I didn’t ask myself if that was a choice.

My parents were afraid of the peace movement. They were convinced the black-power movement was a violent, destructive force. They were Reagan Republicans. They came from immigrant families, from German and from Jewish backgrounds, but they had been raised to see themselves only as Americans. They identified with American oppressors, not the oppressed.

They would not be surprised, though they’d disapprove, to learn I feel the way I feel. And they’d shake their heads in disappointment at the next generation.

My daughter is a justice warrior. She is outraged by the hypocrisy of our society. My son has detached from the news, an effort to stay sane in an insane time.

While I am uncomfortable and troubled, I am convinced it is way past time to make this right. I just don’t see how it happens. But I know it must. Because we, America, are wrong. We have been wrong, and we will continue to be wrong until we are forced to change.

There are 9 comments

  1. Frank

    Mix Bennett I- I suggest you consult a therapist or an ER physician for drinking to much progressive koolaide.

  2. Jude Asphar

    Well said, Susan. A necessarily humbling and uncomfortable time for we white women and men. We who have been complicit — but no excuses or denial any more — time to live with, and act on, the shame. Hats off to your daughter and son and all bests to them and to all their contemporaries of all races, standing for the fact that Black Lives Matter.

  3. Michael Whitton

    Given that you are uncomfortable I encourage you to leave, to leave your warped, illiterate, ignorant world that is so uninformed and delusional, and simply leave the United States, the most democratic, free and prosperous Country in the World. Take your kids too. Report back to us after a short period of time as we are certain you will be clawing to get back in, As you miss all your freedoms, just like all the immigrants in the southern borders. Your warped perspectives on life and the world today are in fact the problems that exist that need to be addressed – namely Liberalism. Science has accomplished many feats over the decades and hopefully Science can one day cure the disease of Liberalism.

    1. Bill H

      MW, I am not sure if you have traveled, but rest assured, there are a great many countries in the world that are wonderful places to live. Many of them are democratic and provide the same freedoms we have here.

  4. wowjustwow

    You’re correct, Ms. Barnett, about hypocrisy in our society. Since you’re not fond of white people (i.e., deplorable white people), may I suggest that you watch a video of Malcolm X recorded on October 11, 1963 at UC Berkeley (you can find it on Youtube) in which he reveals his perspective on the difference between conservative whites (the wolf) and liberal whites (the fox). I hope you’re not surprised to hear what blacks think of white liberals.

    1. Bill H

      That is an amazing speech, and he has been proven to be right about white conservatives and liberals in America. This explains the outrage across America that has recently come to a head… again. And that rage will continue to burn until we white people finally commit to solving the problem of racism. And this does not mean simply that white folks try not to join the KKK. Rather it means that we commit to dismantling and rebuilding the systemic racism in all our institutions, such as law enforcement, the entire criminal justice system, redlining, education, politics, law, etc. Are you ready?

      And, to be clear, Malcolm X does not represent “blacks”. I think you are referring to an incredibly diverse population of people, who perhaps have only one thing in common in America: enduring systemic, racist oppression since the founding of the nation.

  5. Bill H

    I totally understand the feelings of guilt. It’s great that you acknowledge it. I would encourage white folks to turn those feelings into action:
    1. Donate to anti-racism causes
    2. Get out and stand as allies of black and brown people who are not treated the same way as whites
    3. Speak: call out racism when you see it
    4. Commit to learning about racism, which is not the occasional KKK flag burning so much as deeply embedded systemic unfairness against people of color, particularly black folks
    5. Give up unearned white privilege
    6. When you know you are enjoying an advantage over people of color because you are white, refuse the advantage
    7. Stop telling people they should move to another country (like Michael Whitton does above), or “go back home,” if they are unhappy here

    If we don’t take action, then it does not matter how badly we feel about how things are.

  6. Kenneth Anger

    Next year’s Oscars should have an award for the 17-year old videographer of “The Knee”?

  7. Car 54

    “Fire here; hire there!” hollered a protestor about racist cops caught.

    That’s a good one!

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