Wednesday, June 29, 2016

White Privilege

A rash of ugly, racist incidents have shaken my little town, my white, wealthy, upscale, little town with its entitled artists, aging hippies and self-satisfied liberals. Oh, trust me, I know, I’m one of them; one of the white, (comparatively) wealthy, artist-hippie-liberals. We tell ourselves that our little town, our little Brigadoon bubble, is open, loving, kind, inclusive, enlightened.  Racism here? We are better than that. 

Well, my white privilege bubble of denial has been pierced by the reality of what my friends and co-workers are experiencing, horrible incidents of name calling and threats. They are speaking out and it's high time I listened.

I believe that I have always stood up and spoken out against racism, sexism, oppression, injustice, hate of any kind. I have worked for equal rights and justice.   But, I have also been willfully blind to what’s going on in front of me. It's time to see the truth in front of my face.  It's time to acknowledge my complicity.

I choose to live in beautiful southern Oregon and I love it here. I also recognize that it is extremely white, probably one of the whitest places in the United States.  I live in a Congressional district where most residents are deeply conservative, Christian, and so right wing, they make mainstream Republicans look like the Trotskyites. It’s a vast district, the seventh largest in the country, rural, isolated, the kind of place that attracts Trump-loving gun nuts and Info-Wars addicts.  Hell, a bunch of right wing, red neck "patriots" recently declared themselves a militia and took over a freaking bird refuge out in Malheur County. Yes friends, that happened in my Congressional district. Don't even get me started on the long, racist history of this area and the state of Oregon as a whole, we will be here all day. As a wealthy college and tourist town, Ashland is an outlier in this district, but it's still almost exclusively white. And yet, I chose to live here.   

Why do some white people fear and hate Black and Brown people, LBGTQ people, Muslims and Jews? I’ve never understood and never will.  It baffles me. It makes me nauseous. 

I chose to live in my little, liberal, hippie bubble, never realizing that it is the kind of place where people of color, my friends and colleagues, are regularly called the “n” word.  (And no, I won’t write it out; I won’t even capitalize the “n”.)  One of the revered founding artists of my theatre told me that, when he first came to town, he and his fellow theater geeks were regularly referred to as "Shakes-queers." There were certain bars they avoided for their own safety. I didn't realize that all of that is still happening to Black people.   I didn’t know, and that is nobody’s fault but mine.  If I had bothered to ask, my friends and colleagues would have set me straight.

And, there it is, right there: my white privilege, my racism. I didn’t know because I didn’t ask.