White Liberals: The Search for Our Souls Continues

Over the past day or two, a friend and I have been exchanging texts about racism. He and I are both nice, white liberal guys who are struggling with all of the changes happening in our society, especially on the woke left. We found an area where we vehemently disagree and it has caused a rupture in our otherwise collegial relationship. I’m pretty sure that we’ll be able to come to a detente, but I can tell that I’m not as impervious to the slings and arrows of political debate as I once was.

It’s all good even if it’s uncomfortable. Race issues are thorny and difficult even for nice white guys like my friend and me. In my view, it’s high time that race is finally coming out of the closet and being spoken about like it was in the 1960s. The work done then was monumental, but it was not finished. I see the current discussion as the antiseptic we need to use to clean up a centuries-old mess created by our ancestors and perpetuated by many since. The statistics don’t lie. Black and brown people are still suffering in our society more than white people. As we go to the polls this week, it’s important to note that we have lost ground that we gained when congress overturned key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To me, this work feels like we’re removing many layers of wallpaper while the sheetrock is crumbling. Again, it’s all for the good – but it’s painful for those doing the work.

My discomfort is the point of Robin DiAngelo’s book, “White Fragility.” I’m accustomed, as are most of my fellow white liberals, to being on the comfortable side of this issue. We point back to gains made and we declare that we are not racists. Heck, we have black friends! We taught our kids to be good to everyone and we are happy to give up our seat on the bus to anyone, black or white, who needs it.

DiAngelo has convinced me and many others, however, that systemic racism is still alive in our society and, quite likely, in our collective minds. We are biased without knowing we’re biased because we live in a bubble of our own privilege. This is a hard truth to face and it’s got a lot of people very upset. I get it.

Bono once said in a concert, “Am I bugging you? Well, I mean to bug you!” That woke me up then and it’s waking me up every day with a sense that there’s work to be done with regard to equality. Whether it’s race, class, gender, physical differences or mental instablity, I’ve got some strong biases to unpack and examine.

In no way am I saying that all of the work needs to be done by white liberals who need to examine their thinking and behavior. That’s a very white-centric attitude that brings us right back to “we’re in charge.” But it’s a part of the whole. And it’s my part.

My friend and I have to figure out if we’re still part of the same Democratic team. Beth and I are working on this, too, as we frequently disagree on issues of how much woke is enough. It’s a slog, but a worthwhile one, right?

A friend of mine once said, “I will always be honest with you, but I will never be brutally so.” Amen. It’s all well and good to disagree, but I think it’s important to be civil – especially when it’s hard to do so.

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