Speaking on Behalf of the White and Privileged... and Courageous

January 31, 2017

Speaking on behalf of WE the white and privileged…and courageous, 
I want to take a moment to address YOU, those WE call other – other colors, other lifestyles, other abilities, other classes, other statuses – those WE have worked so hard to categorize and label, carefully crafting and recrafting palatable ways to call out your differences. I want to speak to YOU about our years and years of being deliberately obtuse. 

No one granted me the role of spokesperson, but I feel, nevertheless, that it’s my place. 

WE have, in innumerable seen and unseen ways, caused your social and systemic oppression. 

Recently we have been reawakened to this knowledge after struggling ferociously since the ‘60s to gloss over, cover up, rename, “celebrate” and unlearn it. 

It is with deep humility that I admit this on our behalf. Many join me. Many others remain in denial.

I spoke this past week to a group of leaders of considerable influence in our community. We talked about race, privilege, and courage. Over the course of the discussion some dropped off, disengaged. Others held their ground, defiant. Many absorbed, acknowledged. A few led. 
One lamented, saying, “We get it, but how do we bring our followers along? Who will explain it so that we don’t lose our people? We need them (people of color, the differently abled, LGBTQIA, refugees, immigrants, the poor, the…) to come and explain it to us.”

Once again, WE say we need to hear directly from YOU – individuals who have faced prejudice and bias and marginalization, WE just don’t understand. It’s all so new! 

To which YOU respond, “Really?”

For two very valid reasons:

1.    Why should you continually recite and relive your discomfort, dismay and anger for our education? So that we can tsk and frown and wonder when things will ever change (and who might change them?) as we continue to disavow our own roles and decry any knowledge of the issues?


2.    Why should you share your experiences, if, when you do, we minimize and invalidate, ridicule and doubt. Why should you, when we remain unwilling to feel the weight or field the complexity of your oppression? 

A few weeks ago at a Hate and Bias Response Symposium, I listened to a panel of students of color talk about their higher education experiences. One of the students, a young woman of Asian descent, spoke about facing isolation, bias, and prejudice throughout her three-and-a-half years at a majority-white college. 

She was exhausted and angry and brittle, because, in addition to managing her class load, she spent time every day educating her fellow students, her teachers, and the institution about her identity. She was humiliated and discriminated against. She was forced to represent. She was obliged to explain and coach. She was required to stand up and speak up. 

And now, she told the symposium audience forcefully, she no longer has time for white fragility. She doesn’t have time to “meet us where we are” and educate us so that WE can decide whether or not YOU are our equals. 

She needs to live her one precious life.

We have exhausted so many, and which of us has carried such a weight? Do we recognize that this truth belongs to millions, and has for generations?  

We know, deeply. 

We must acknowledge, to ourselves and to others, the dissonance we feel in our privilege. 


  • We know that while our intentions are good, we fall down on delivery. We don’t show up.

  • We know that we turn a deaf ear and a blind eye. We give ourselves a pass because we just don’t know what is expected of us, what will be tolerated, what is correct.

  • We know that RIGHT NOW there are more individuals who wish to be personally responsible and involved in healing and equality that there have been in decades. 

  • We know that we must take that next step together. Into understanding. Into action. Into change. 

  • We need to accept this burden. It is ours. WE need to organize our people. WE do. With heart – and some stamina for a change. On behalf of all. 

Humbly, we ask you to walk beside us as we do. 




The Basics Individuals: Finding authentic ways to act from a position of privilege.

Take the first step, or the next step, to weave yourself into the fabric of our human tapestry. Your participation is absolutely crucial.

  1. Be a courageous listener and a courageous observer. Step up and in, even if it is in simple ways.

  2. Ask. Ask what you should do, where you should be, how you can help.

  3. Do not be fragile. Be bold…and humble.

  4. Don’t be discouraged by missteps. You are navigating new and difficult waters.

  5. Bring someone with you. You’ve shared the privilege, share the journey.


The Basics Organizations: Building a strong community coalition for equity.

The strength of our human tapestry is less about each strand than about how they are woven together. We have this opportunity to improve our durability by combining organizational energies. We build better outcomes together. 

  1. Seek out partnership opportunities and new connections. Activate!

  2. Ask. Ask for trust, for support, and for introductions to those outside your reach.  Provide the same when you are asked.

  3. Build up others. Your message and mission are not diminished when you share the podium, they are reinforced.

  4. Be persistent and straightforward. Forming new alliances takes extra care.  

  5. Own your strengths, your experience, your wisdom. Share them generously.  

Rally in Peace Plaza 1/29/2017 Protesting the Travel Ban signed by Executive Order by our current President. Photo credit: Becca Stiles-Nogosek

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