When first I “got it” about white privilege

Have you read the long and extremely well-done post by Adria Richards called Arrington, CNN and Diversity? It speaks to issues of white male privilege from folks like Michael Arrington; it speaks to issues of diversity in tech startups—particularly people of color in tech startups. It speaks to the issue of black entrepreneurs pitching startups at TechCrunch Disrupt. It talks about race-baiting at CNN in the Arrington interview that set this off. Many thoughtful people are quoted on these issues.

This talk about white male privilege reminds me of the first time I sort of “got it” myself. I’m not male, but I am white, and was blithely unaware of what that meant for a good part of my life.

At one point in my life I was consulting the Texas state department of education doing teacher training workshops in cooperative learning. (See my cooperative learning books for an explanation as to why I was doing this.) The two women within the state department of education leading this training were both African American. They set up a training session in a small Texas town for the three of us, plus another trainer who was a high school principal–also African American.

I don’t want to name this Texas town, but I will say they grow some nice peaches down there and they are pretty sure that German immigrants created Texas.

The four of us women drove down together and stayed in a very nice bed and breakfast for the weekend.  I remember suggesting we talk a morning walk before the sessions began. I was told that a black woman would have to be crazy to go walking in the street. That sort of set me back and made me think. At lunch, we were to eat in a local restaurant and brew pub. To get to the dining rooms, you had to walk through a bar area. We drove there (no walking) even though it was only about 4 blocks away. Then we made a beeline straight from the front door toward the dining area in the back. A man stepped away from the bar and blocked the progress of one of the women from the state department, asking her what she was doing there.

She told him, rather nicely I thought considering what a jerk he was, and he moved out of the way. I got a glimpse of an idea about attitude among black women and what might generate it.

Our efforts to find an evening meal went well with no trouble from anyone, waitresses included. Then we drove back to the B&B after dark. I wandered across the street to look at a yard full of ceramic frogs that were for sale. All three of the women started yelling at me to get out of there. I asked why–stupidly–and they frantically herded me back into the car talking about fears that the owner would come out with a shotgun to shoot me. They sped off, without even going inside the B&B. It took a while and a stern lecture to me about wandering around after dark before we went back. A lesson learned about the dangers of window shopping while brown.

When we were throwing our luggage in the trunk to go home, a rattle-trap of a pickup rolled by. It backfired. I looked at it, thinking, “Oh, backfire.” All three of the African American women ducked. The instinct to duck was bred from a lot of years of treatment that I had never experienced because of my white skin. Here we were, four equally professional, hard-working women hired to help train the local educators, but three of us were hyper-vigilant and attuned to the possibility of fatal attack. One of us was just beginning to understand what white privilege means.

I wish I could give a weekend like that to a lot of white people I know.  There are quite a few men in tech who would benefit from a weekend where they were the only man in a group of women in tech at a conference. I can’t make either of those things happen, but they would be beneficial experiences.

However, I can urge you to read Adria’s entire post and watch her videos and give it some open-minded thought.