It’s time for a national dialogue on White privilege and Black responsibility

The racial divide results from attitudes and perceptions afflicting both whites and blacks. Both sides must act together to change perceptions.

Michael Brown shooting has opened old wounds about race, photo credit Elvert Barnes / Flickr

WASHINGTON, December 27, 2014 — The term “white privilege” is meant to explain the unearned benefits that white people in Western cultures receive by virtue of their race. Some argue that white privilege is pervasive in American society. If it is and we want to reduce it, we should also think about black responsibility.

Many Americans of color, including President Obama, say that for too long blacks have not received the same opportunities as whites. Americans have a responsibility to fix this.

Many Americans understand the concept of white privilege and may have benefited from it, but we also thought that things were changing, that there was expanding opportunity for people of color. We could point to increasing numbers of black men and women at the highest levels of our government; the majority of Americans elected a black man to the highest office in the land.

If a person of color can be elected President of the United States, are not opportunities for people of color greater than they have ever been? It appeared that white privilege was finally eroding.

But things seem to have changed again, and for he worse. For the past four months, not only has white privilege been moved to the forefront of national conversation, there seems to be wedge being driven between the American people based on skin color.

As a college professor, I find the claim of systemic discrimination to be mostly unsupported for many groups, especially for those 30 years old and younger.  These young Americans are really blind to race and mostly blind to gender or lifestyle preference. But as I watch the protests and listen to the leaders, I see a real sense of anger, frustration, and a general feeling of being shortchanged in life.

It appears, though, that the frustration is not really a consequence of skin color.

The data indicates that the vast majority of black people are not raised in traditional family settings. Sociologists tell us this leads to increased social problems, including crime. Many black adults are not taking full responsibility for their children.

The disproportionately high percentage of black men involved in crime makes many people, white and black, fearful around groups of black men. Responsible people would not commit crime in such high proportions.

This lack of responsibility results in young black people feeling angry, frustrated and generally shortchanged in life. They carry these feeling with them as they become adults. While it appeared that the situation was not anywhere near the boiling point, recent incidents have intensified these feelings.

It would serve all of us well if we could just tone down the rhetoric and try to ease tensions quickly, especially now that much of the negative feeling is being directed towards the police, who are the ones who insure our safety.

To those of us who lived in the 1960’s and were truly inspired by people like John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the protests of today are very disheartening.  During the 60’s, which had its share of radicals, most of the effective demonstrations were peaceful. On large marches like the March on Washington, Dr. King insisted on peaceful demonstration no matter what the opposition did.

It is time for a national dialogue on racial division. Most polls indicate that the majority of Americans feel that race relations have worsened in the last six years, which is contrary to the view expressed by President Obama. He recently said, “I actually think that it’s probably, in its day-to-day interactions, less racially divided.”  Certainly the first step to bridging the divide is to admit that we have a problem.

As we discuss white privilege, we should also discuss black responsibility. The racial divide is a result of attitudes and perceptions that afflict both whites and blacks. Both groups, acting together, have the ability to change the perceptions. The first step is to ensure that all Americans receive equal opportunity. Throughout much of American history, and particularly in the last six years, that has not been the case.


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