By Amber Kanallakan
“Your adopted child of color doesn’t automatically inherit your white privilege.” I don’t remember where I first read those ten words, but they landed in my head and heart with a loud thud. As the white mom of a child of color, I was confused and offended. Rather than sit and stew, I decided to investigate and ask questions. What I have since learned has opened my eyes to a reality I never knew existed.
The word “privilege” is not new to us. As a family, we’ve discussed the privilege of living in a country where we can pray in a restaurant without fear of being arrested. My kids know it’s a privilege to have multiple Bibles, written in our native language, in our home. It’s even a privilege that our daughter is allowed to attend school. These “rights” must also be considered “privileges,” simply because of the millions of people around the globe who live without such freedoms.
“White privilege” is more of an unspoken privilege and only two of my three kids have access to this one. My youngest son, Oliver, is a beautiful, brown-skinned boy from Nanjing, China. He has black hair and dark chocolate eyes. He’s missing his right hand so, when he falls, his left arm takes the full force of any injury. The box of “flesh colored” Band-Aids in the cupboard are not flesh colored for my son. For me, this is just one small example of white privilege.
So, our white privilege looks like this: when my husband goes out for a jog at night, I don’t worry about Neighborhood Watch calling the police on a “suspicious character” running down the street. When my daughter shops for a new doll at Target, she can choose from dozens of faces that look just like hers. If I need shampoo, I go to the “hair care” aisle, rather than searching for the “ethnic” section. And “flesh colored” Band-Aids match my skin. These are all examples of white privilege, even if they might seem small to the average Caucasian.
As he grows, I know Oliver will personally face the effects of racism against Asians. Whether it’s kids on the playground slanting their eyes or speaking “chingchong” or teasing him as he works to get his driver’s license because, “you know Asian drivers…blah, blah, blah,” it will come. The hurtful slurs and stereotypes will be a real part of his life. I hate this for him and I anticipate many conversations around the dinner table where we will address these painful moments. I don’t anticipate having to soothe the same type of wounds with my fair-skinned, blond-headed kids. They, unlike Oliver, will rarely walk into a space and be the only person of their race in that room. This is white privilege.
In my adoption circle, I have many white friends with black children, who could chime into this conversation. They would tell you stories of talks they’ve had with their sons — warning them not to wear hoodies at night or not to ever play with plastic toy guns (even water guns). Ever. These mamas have stories of the police being called to their homes, by their new neighbors who didn’t realize the black teen moving furniture out of their home was, in fact, moving his own furniture, not robbing the house. Their white children don’t inspire calls to the police while simply moving furniture. White privilege.
White privilege, in and of itself, is not “racism” but it is a symptom. Racism is taught. It is passed down from generation to generation. The same lies our founding fathers believed 300 years ago are still alive and trickling down today. They’ve morphed, of course. So, though slavery is gone and the KKK is widely viewed as disgusting and evil, things like “flesh colored” Band-Aids and “don’t wear hoodies” are still very real, yet they creep past the view of rose-colored glasses sitting atop my white nose so quietly, I don’t even notice.
Now, mamas, hear me, please. White privilege is not something for white people to feel guilty about; rather, it’s something we all need to be very aware of. Please don’t let the enemy of our souls use shame as a weapon to keep us silent. Shame shuts us down and shuts us up. It keeps us from asking questions and truly listening to the answers. Shame keeps us from speaking up when we have something to say.
Don’t shut off because the conversation of racial inequality and injustice is unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Don’t turn away because it’s not the experience you’ve had and, therefore, not valid. Even if you don’t understand and can’t relate, please listen. Please acknowledge. Please mourn with the members of our black community who are mourning. Please be willing to learn. Be willing to be wrong. Be willing to confess and repent. Our kids are watching us react and not react to what is happening in the world around us. What an impact we could make for the next generation by modeling compassion, empathy, and the skill of simply listening to others.
There are a lot of amazing resources available for learning more about defining white privilege and facilitating racial reconciliation. Here are a few of my favorites:
- “Be the Bridge” is an amazing online community whose goal is “to influence racial reconciliation within our communities and to become bridges-builders of awareness.” They are doing good work and are starting important conversations. Find out more at: www.beabridgebuilder.com
- “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh, is a list of examples of white privilege and it is gold. I found this piece to be very helpful in my own understanding of how this reality plays out in daily life. You can read the essay here: https://www.deanza.edu/faculty/lewisjulie/White%20Priviledge%20Unpacking%20the%20Invisible%20Knapsack.pdf
- Author and speaker, Jennie Allen, teams up with Tasha Morrison in a video dialog about unity and racial reconciliation, specifically in the local church. It is a great, real, raw video which helps answer the “what now?” question so many of us wrestle with. You can view the video at: http://www.jennieallen.com/unity-conversation-with-tasha-morrison/
Get in touch with Amber at: www.heryeslegacy.com