Sunday, July 10, 2016

Uhm, I Don't Have Any Black Friends

Here is a somewhat awkward post about white privilege and black lives matter by a guy named Gonzalez, but here it goes.

I have friends who are Black. Real friends. Life long friends who I went to church camp with as a kid, who I went to college with when I was trying to learn how to be an adult, who stood up for me as groomsmen in my wedding, and continue to be great friends.

So how did that happen? Luck. Honestly, it was luck. Perhaps it was more than luck and it was an act of God. All I know is that it did not happen by any effort on my part to connect with Black people.

I grew up attending nearly all white schools.
I went to a nearly all white colleges for undergrad, masters and doctorate.
I have always lived in nearly all white neighborhoods.
I have always attended nearly all white churches.
All of my jobs except 1 have been in nearly all white workplaces.
I married a white woman.
I have white children.
I shop where white people shop.
I eat out where white people eat out.

How in the world am I supposed to have a bunch of Black friends if everywhere I go is filled with white people?

And that is exactly the right question. I have made choices within the existing institutions, social structures, and geographies that were presented to me. In short, I have lived my whole life in the flow of a culture that made being with white people the easiest, most obvious and most advantageous choices for me to make - over and over and over again. Other options were available, yes, but mostly obscured from my eyes.

I would have had to work and work hard to choose otherwise.

I do not have friends who are Black because I ever traveled a cultural divide of any kind, but rather because my friends who are Black have lived, for whatever reason, in my predominantly white world. I am grateful for that, humbled by it. It costs them something (every single day) to live in this world that it does not cost me.

When I talk about white privilege, it is (usually) not some sinister thing white people intentionally do to be extra super white. It is not about white people saying, "hey, look at me, I'm all white and we all know what that means." Instead it means that there are institutions and social processes already in motion that highlight options, possibilities and expectations for white people that keep white people all together and obscure a broad scope of options, possibilities, and expectations that would integrate people. The available options often times have benefits to them provided the individual works hard and plays by the rules (and sometimes working hard and playing by the rules are optional). These benefits are enticing and who doesn't like benefits?

The problem is that these same options are not highlighted for non-whites as often as for whites and they are often not nearly as accessible. The options, possibilities, and expectations for non-whites are different and often have fewer benefits. Much of these options are obscured from view for non-whites. The cultural flow passes by non-whites differently than it does whites - and sometimes it is not even the same cultural river flowing by.

These processes are generally not sinister on the individual level (the level at which most people take offense when they hear the world "privilege"), but they are on the cultural and institutional level. Very few white people wake up each morning and say to themselves, "Ahhh yes, another day to cash in on my white privilege at the expense of non-whites." And no one is really making the accusation that white people are saying such things (with the exception of a few corrupt CEOs of major corporations). What is so sinister about the societal and institutional levels of white privilege is that they are mostly so invisible to the people accessing them that they feel normal.

But Chris, aren't you Latino? How can you even talk about white privilege? 

It is a fair question if we have never met. I assure you, I have my white card. So here goes: I do get junk mail written in Spanish sometimes (that I can't read), get a sweet farmer's tan in the summer and three generations ago my great grandparents who I never met lived in Mexico. But I am as Mexican as Tom Fischer from Nebraska is German. Family processes and American culture have effectively scrubbed so much Mexican from my identity. I love being a Gonzalez, but that's now you learn Spanish or have a cultural identity. Yes, I have had some moments that remind me I am not always seen as white, but generally I pass as white and if my name were Smith, I would probably always pass as white.

My point in all of this is that what we are facing is not only on the individual level, but it is also on the cultural level and includes institutions and social processes with long histories that perpetuate divisions between people - even if those divisions are not part of the current intention of the institution. The divisiveness survives because they are not overtly intention and "normal."

What I need to do is to create space in the normal and consistent flow of my life where I am in a context where I am not part of the dominant culture. I need to situate myself into places where I am the learner, the student, the one who has to work hard to understand what the assumptions, expectations, and options are. Sometimes I need to be in a context where it is impossible for me to ever be the expert or the hero.

Perhaps if I can find a way to get the privilege of being invited into the flow of another culture I could have more non-white friends.

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