Self-examination of a white liberal

The message that this white liberal heard the loudest the last few weeks is that “Do no harm” is not enough. It’s not enough to try to treat everyone decently. Antiracism requires more than passivity.

African Americans are understandably tired of whites asking them for suggestions of what to do. Yet it can be hard to figure it out, especially for introverts uncomfortable with agitation. (Acknowledgment: our comfort level may be irrelevant.) My past actions, like volunteering to tutor and to cook meals, won’t help change underlying systemic racism.

This post isn’t going to conclude with an answer, but heeding How to Be an Antiracist author Ibram X. Kendi’s call for self-examination, I can think about questions such as the following:

• I’ve lived in a big city for 30 years but not among African Americans. I experience black people mostly as store clerks, transit employees, and strangers on the sidewalk. How has that affected my notions?

• I can count on my fingers the number of African Americans colleagues I had in all of my jobs combined. But why didn’t I reach out to the few, asking them to lunch and taking more time to chat? When they seemed to keep to themselves, why did I assume that was their preference?

• There have been a few times that I’ve felt rudely treated by black strangers. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about one. Why did I feel guilty about standing up for myself? Was race relevant? Was it biased of me to detect an attitude? Could I have misinterpreted because I don’t understand black behavioral norms? On the other hand, isn’t it offensive to attribute what feels like rudeness to racial difference?

• I have ventured into few neighborhoods on the South and West Sides because of the assumption that it would be unsafe to do so. Why haven’t I double-checked that assumption, neighborhood by neighborhood?

• How should I have responded when an acquaintance said, “I did not enslave anyone, I’m not guilty”?

* How have I benefited from white privilege?

• Why does it make me uncomfortable to hear that I’m part of the problem if I’m not doing anything to solve it? There are so many people discriminated against — other minority groups, women, people with disabilities, lesbians and gays, gender-nonconforming people, seniors, etc. — how could a single person take action for all?



The planned Trump rally in Tulsa is “an extraordinarily dangerous move for the people participating and the people who may know them and love them and see them afterward.”

— Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute


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  • Perhaps black people tire of white people asking them what they can do for them because it infers that black people cannot help themselves without the often well-meaning but completely ignorant effort of the white liberal. This is what might be called a "micro-aggression". It is the insidious bigotry of low expectations. THAT might be something to examine.

  • I did not say that blacks cannot help themselves. Of course they do. But since white people have the power and outnumber blacks, white people have to participate, too.

  • In reply to Marianne Goss:

    All good questions to ask. I do feel that treating people decently is a good first step for any situation. And I do agree, white folks in general need to engage with black people more to cross the racial divide. When I was looking for a dentist, I was looking for a woman dentist. I ended up with a black woman dentist. When I was looking for a web designer, a young lady was recommended to me. I didn't know she was black until we met for the first time. Earlier in my life, I crossed the boundary into a gang ridden neighborhood to work with a community group. I'm not recommending it but I'm glad I did. I met some very cool and dedicated people. So I feel I've been fortunate to have had those experiences.

  • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Al.

    One thing I thought about to get out of the "trying to be a savior" dilemma is participating in an organization where African Americans are the leaders.

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