The Day I Was Told To Leave America (It Was Just Last Week)

This past Thursday I shared an article titled Day 1 in Trump’s America on my personal Facebook account. My point in sharing the post was to ask people who have been saying, “This sh*t's gonna blow over," "God will make sure it all works out," "You liberals are making too big a deal of this," or "Give Trump a chance to make America great again!" to absorb the hate crime examples in the post and evaluate their perspective and the privilege that allows them to say “get over it.” The examples are from all across the United States, including even liberal Massachusetts.

It wasn’t long before a few white women defensively jumped in on the thread. And as the thread of well over 100 comments progressed, what became clear was that the heart of the anger was related to me bringing up the concept of white privilege.

Please don’t click away because I just said “white privilege.” Please hear me out.

I get it, the term white privilege is triggering

I totally get it. White privilege is a tough term. It conjures the image of silver spoons and bratty, entitled behavior. I was told that by using that term I was:

  • Blaming white people for being white
  • Asking white people to apologize for being white
  • Not taking into account that white people are hard workers and good people (one woman on the attack grew up poor so clearly using the term privilege was a trigger)
  • Accusing all white people of inherently being racist and superior

I was doing none of these things. But here are a few other things that happened during this sobering thread:

  • I was called a racist (against white people)
  • I was told “If you aren’t a fan of us Americans that happened to have been born here and are white, feel free to go somewhere else where you are treated more fairly.” (Note: The person who said this backpedaled on this statement when people called her on it, saying she didn’t mean for me to interpret this as leaving America, but well, that’s how it came across.)
  • I was told to stop shining a spotlight on race and the hardships that come with it. (I shared a personal story of being 5 years old, walking through the town of Belmont, and having a car full of white men drive by throwing full soda cans at my head yelling “GOOK!” I think this story made her uncomfortable so she blamed me for telling it.).

But here’s the thing, white privilege is real

But here is the thing, white privilege is real. It is not your fault individually, per se, that it exists -- but the reality is, if you are white, you have been born into an unfair system that benefits you. By definition, white privilege is the reality that white people experience societal assets over non-white counterparts. Here are just a couple of concrete examples from the conversation thread last Thursday:

  • I was told to “get over it” regarding my fear of Trump’s presidency and how it has led to hate crimes. White people have the privilege to assume people can get over it because they are not in Trump’s crosshairs (i.e., because they are white).
  • One woman said: “I am so so so tired of racism. I’m done with the accusations about any kind of privilege. Sleep well all.” People of color are pretty damned tired of racism too but don’t have the privilege to go to sleep and hope it’ll be gone when they wake up.

If you are struggling with the concept of white privilege, what do you do?

I’m not going to lie, the denial and defensiveness on my Facebook wall was staggering. I had to gather all of my strength and compassion to engage in a respectful, thoughtful manner. But I also understand that those feelings were coming from real people. I am always looking for how to move things forward, so, if you are struggling with the concept of white privilege, here are my thoughts on what to do next.

  • Don’t be embarrassed or get defensive if you are an adult and have not heard the term before. Learning and understanding can happen at any time of life.
  • Expand your perspective and educate yourself
    • My friend and colleague Jen Vento recommended reading anything by Kimberle Crenshaw.
    • Even easier and quicker, read Unpacking The Invisible Backpack (recommended by my friend and colleague, Kaitlyn Dowling), a primer on white privilege.
    • If you are bristling at the idea that white privilege applies to you because you grew up poor, read Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person (recommended by my friend Hernando).
    • If you don’t understand why people of color are afraid, look at some of the examples at Why We’re Afraid (recommended by my friend Brenna).
    • If you voted for Trump and are sick of being judged, consider this article, Voted For Trump? I Have Only One Plea (recommended by my friend Paige).
  • Be open to dialog and admit that there is a problem, even if you have suffered your own struggles as a white person. Jen Vento framed it best, “White people can and do experience exclusion and they do have to work hard...but they don’t start with the same disadvantages [as people of color], which are significant.”
  • Talk about the issue with other adults, even it is vastly uncomfortable. Believe me, being told to leave America was pretty damned uncomfortable but I stayed in the conversation and tried to keep my heart as open as possible (despite my periods of rage and frustration). Quite frankly, I was disappointed that the woman who was attacking me unfriended and blocked me because this means she is unwilling to engage in dialog. I truly believe that having these uncomfortable conversations is how we are going to get better together.
  • Talk about white privilege with your kids. I am in an odd position as an Asian person. I have actually been told by people that I'm basically white (meaning, Asians don't have it as bad as other minority groups). My kids are half Asian, half Caucasian but they look white. I have been asked if I'm their nanny because I'm Asian. But those details aside, I think all parents need to educate their kids on the concept of white privilege, inequality, and discrimination -- raising kids who are aware of the realities of the world is what is going to make our world better. 

And where do we ALL go together from here?

My first plea is to engage in compassionate discourse, even if it is incredibly difficult. My friend Amanda Magee called me her discourse heroine on Thursday and that was a really wonderful gift after an exhausting day. It is harder to stay in the conversation and speak up (and I am so, so grateful to the people who took the time to speak up on that thread).

My second plea is to do something to help groups that need your support. Via Facebook, my friend Diana Prichard shared a list of organizations and with her permission I have listed them below (flagged with *). I have also added to this list recommendations via a statement my team at Women Online issued (flagged with **) and also a few additional recommendations via my friend A’Driane Nieves (flagged with ***). This should give you plenty of fodder, but Jezebel also has posted a list of pro-women, pro-immigrant, pro-earth, anti-bigotry organizations if you wish to peruse.