Most of us want to believe we are good people, right? So what happens when we discover we’ve been hurting others in ways we didn’t realize? Well, shame is often the first feeling to show up. But it doesn’t have to be the last…
On the drive to school today, we passed this sign. I thought nothing of it. On the other hand, my older daughter went berserk!
The moment she saw it, she cried out, “Wait! What? Why does it only say ‘Men Working’? What about the women?”
Whoa! She’s so right and it’s never before crossed my mind when I’ve passed the “Men Working” signs!
I mean, it’s just another one of a million moments in life when we are so used to seeing things through a particular lens that we fail to see reality.
Of course women do these jobs now, too. But our signage clearly has not caught up. And for many of us, the default perspective we’re using is one that we never thought to update, either.
This got me thinking more about the default lenses that I’ve been intentionally updating over the last year or more. And recognizing the lens of white privilege that I’ve used for a lifetime is one of them.
Was it fun to discover I’ve been using a lens of white privilege all this time and not known it? Nope. Is it comfortable to look at ALL THE WAYS my white privilege shows up in the world and inadvertently hurts people, some of whom I love so deeply? Definitely not.
I know you may be reading this and thinking, “Well, I don’t have white privilege. I have Black and other BIPOC friends and I’m accepting of all people. I’m a good person and I’m definitely not racist.”
And I get it. For real! I had similar thoughts before I came to understand my own white privilege. And the truth is that I’m still a good person. I still have Black and other BIPOC friends. But I also benefit from my whiteness in a way that none of my BIPOC friends even have the option of experiencing.
My journey to update the lens I use and to uncover ways that my unseen white privilege turned out to be contributing to racial inequality and micro-aggressions has me learning a lot. It also has me understanding that this is not an update that happens in a moment but over a lifetime.
If you’re white and find yourself feeling hesitant to pause and wonder about this thing called white privilege, you’re not alone. In fact, you may even feel relieved that the Black Lives Matter riots have quieted and that the topic is not as present in everyday news. I wouldn’t be surprised if it even feels easier to simply avoid this topic altogether and go on with life.
But guess what? I’ll bet you ARE a good person. And you DO care about others. And you were handed a lens in which to view the world and you didn’t have a choice in it. But you do now.
I can look at that ‘Men Working’ sign today and realize, “Huh, I NEVER noticed that before, but yeah, that IS exclusive in a way that doesn’t even make sense.” And this allows me to make a micro-update in the lens I’m walking around using. And you know who that serves? EVERYONE because it means I’m one more person out there updating my default lens so that it better reflects the reality we are living in and better supports those who contribute to and live in this reality with me.
And you know what? Updating my perspective that comes with being white is making this same thing possible. It felt SCARY to begin to really look at my white privilege and how it’s reflected in the world and how it impacts those around me, including my BIPOC friends. I felt shame.
But it turns out that my ignorance about my white privilege was hurting people in ways I never before saw or understood. This is so counter to who I am as a person, and I’ll bet it is for you, too.
So if you are someone who is white and keeps hearing about this white privilege talk and you find yourself pushing it aside because you KNOW you are a good person and not racist, I’m here to tell you that you CAN be a good person and still hurt people unintentionally.
I encourage you to take that scary step towards exploring what white privilege even is and how yours may be hurting people in ways you don’t even realize or intend. It will NEVER be too late to take this step.
And if you feel overwhelmed about how to do this, send me a DM or an email. I’m happy to give you some ideas about places to start or ways to begin to open this inner exploration and update your default lens, too. And let’s be clear, I’m no expert in this area. I’m simply continuing to take steps to learn more and I invite you to join me.
In the meantime, here’s a link to some examples of the ways that white privilege may show up in your life that may never have occurred to you before…the same way it once did not occur to me: https://projecthumanities.asu.edu/content/white-privilege-checklist. ❤️
P.S. If you’ve been enjoying my weekly blogs and are itching for more daily inspiration, friend me on Facebook (Emily Colwell) or follow me on Instagram (dr.emily_colwell). I post frequently and humor leaks into most of my posts!
Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND
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