What's a white person to do?

Ira Lacher: It is appropriate for me to admit that I benefit from white privilege, and humbly suggest ways we can learn to combat and one day overcome it. -promoted by Laura Belin

In 2016, I told anyone who would listen (and more than a few who wouldn’t) that if Donald Trump were elected president, there would be riots in the streets.

I take no satisfaction in being prescient.

All over America, people rioted over the weekend, stoked by anger and desperation at continued and unending wrongful deaths of black people by police and vigilantes, combined with the despair at a hapless federal government unable to save people from dying, whether from a virus or institutional racism.

I refuse to join the chorus of those who have admonished protesters on how to react to this latest in an unending series of violence against African Americans. But it is appropriate for me, as a white person, to admit that I benefit from white privilege, and humbly suggest ways we can learn to combat and one day overcome it.

A social media friend asked for suggestions on how to recognize white privilege. Some of what I posted included:

  • White privilege is walking your dog wearing an NYPD shirt and never thinking how some people might interpret that.
  • White privilege is browsing an upscale store and never wondering if people are staring at you.
  • White privilege is naturally expecting your mortgage or loan application to be judged simply on the state of your finances.
  • White privilege is shopping and never thinking about being questioned where to find an item or how much something costs.
  • White privilege is driving your car with a taillight out and never worrying about being pulled over.
  • White privilege is loitering in a hotel lobby and never expecting to be confronted on whether you belong there.
  • We can start facing down our white privilege by recognizing it. Andrea Phillips, the Democratic candidate for Iowa House district 37 in Ankeny has a book club that will be discussing Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist online on Monday, June 15, beginning at 6 p.m. Learn more and sign up here.

    Speak with your city council member on what they can do to help change attitudes of existing police officers and new recruits. In Des Moines, which saw violent protests downtown on Friday and Saturday nights but also a sympathetic response by police officers Sunday, the council is considering ordinances banning racial profiling and imposing bias training. Learn how you can help.

    Pay attention to leaders in black communities. They should have the pulse of their constituents and can speak to the various aspects of how to respond to institutional racism. In Des Moines, I recommend contacting Pastor Ron Woods, State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad and Al Womble, who was Andrew Yang’s Iowa campaign manager.

    If you think you know how to help solve the problem, think again. You don’t. I don’t. But we can learn more. We can be willing to follow, not lead. And we can avoid pretending to know how it feels. You can’t. I can’t. But we can do better.

    Top image: Protesters kneel during a vigil in memory of George Floyd at Union Park in Des Moines on May 31, 2020. Photo by Joe Crimmings, published with permission.

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