While white people across America are bending over backwards to confess their white privilege or, I guess, “fragility,” I’m afraid I have a different perspective.
I have a clean conscience.
In my house, my parents never talked about race. It never came up. I can’t remember a time watching television with my parents, or being out at a store, or at a professional sporting event, where either of my parents mentioned the race of anyone we were seeing.
It just didn’t come up. And why would it? It didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now.
These days, you would think what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said about judging a man by the content of his character and not the color of his skin is fighting words racism. (In fact, by some definitions, like those who get riled by the sentence, “I don’t see color,” it is.)
I recently spoke to my Dad about this (since the death of George Floyd). I asked him about his perspective on race and if it was intentional that we never talked about it. He didn’t think there was anything to talk about.
When we talked about people, it was because they were doing something exceptional that made them stand out. There’s nothing exceptional about being black… or white or asian, for that matter.
One thing my Dad did talk to me about, as I was growing up, was his job. I’ve heard countless stories about my Dad’s job, the people he worked for, the people who worked for him, and the people he worked with. (And, being a Dad, I’ve heard many of those stories multiple times.)
However, during this last conversation, he told me a story I had never heard before.
My Dad was pretty high up in his company. A Vice President. He had an entire division of workers that rolled up to him.
When I asked him about race and why it never came up, he said because it didn’t matter to him. He told me of two particular black people, one man, and one woman, who worked for him. He hired them both.
The woman was hired at a lower level, but she outperformed everyone so much that he promoted her to a foreman level role. Again, she outperformed everyone so significantly that he promoted her to lead the other foremen.
The man was also part of that crew, and similar to the woman he mentioned, my Dad promoted him because he did an amazing job.
When I asked if he was driven by quotas or if race was a consideration, he said he’d never thought of it. They were simply the best and most qualified at the work they were doing, so they got what they deserved.
Both went on to have amazing careers. I’ve no idea if they thought there was anything exceptional about this white VP promoting them – without them fighting for it. I like to believe they simply knew they deserved it because they worked hard and were good at what they were doing.
As I consider my own life, I focused on what I was doing and did it to the best of my ability. I wasn’t perfect, and I don’t think my skin color afforded me many advantages.
I certainly had my share of failures. One incident, in particular, stands out as an example of privilege. I was trying to work for a local congressman – my dream job. I prepared, and I had great qualifications. After my interview, I happened to see the person who inevitably got the job interview. He sat laid back in his chair, in a straight line, so the top of his back rested against the top of the chair, his butt pushed the edge of the seat, and his legs were straight out in front of him.
He never sat up, and he didn’t care about the role. It wasn’t something he was particularly interested in. He was just in need of a gig. But he got the job. I knew him, so it was easy to find out that he had a friend who knew someone on the congressman’s staff. The fix was in. It was a foregone conclusion. But the thing is, he was also a white man.
See, it’s hard to have white privilege when your competition is other white men. Someone still has to lose, and often, it’s got nothing to do with qualifications or experience.
That’s just it. Everyone’s experience is unique. We all succeed and fail, largely due to luck. We create more opportunities for luck by simply putting ourselves out there and creating more opportunities. Conversely, we also create more opportunities to fail.
But if you’re optimistic and positive, you will learn from your failures. Often, they’re more valuable than your successes.
I was never brought up to see race as an issue. I’ve been on the wrong end of all sorts of prejudices, some because of the way I was dressed or the way I looked, and some because I made a bad impression.
Every situation is dynamic, and it’s simply too easy to blame it all on some amorphous concept that may or may not have been in play.
Sure, I’ve had it easier than some. But I’ve also had it harder than others. This goes for everyone. We all get lucky sometimes and not so lucky the others. Part of that is how you choose to view life.
If you see yourself as a victim, you are more likely to become one.
If you try to take control and put yourself out there, something good will inevitably come your way, regardless of your skin color or how much money you have in the bank.
As much as people try to guilt me into feeling bad about my life, it’s simply not going to happen. I’ve tried to do the right thing and live by a moral code. I think, in general, I get what I deserve (even when it’s bad, because sometimes I deserve that, too).
Instead of resenting how I grew up, I think people would do better to be inspired by it. There’s nothing that I’ve accomplished or earned that others couldn’t have with their own work and efforts.
Anyone could live the life I’ve led. Anything’s possible if you put in the time and effort.