By Jeremy Guenther
Note: The MidAmerica Staff Team thought you might enjoy hearing the voice and words of a lay member in our Region struggling to dismantle systemic white supremacy and understand its impact. We reached out to a graduate of Midwest Leadership School, Jeremy Guenther.
White privilege is real—and I'm absolutely dipped in it. And what I’m about to say is a lot harder to nail down. We’ve all heard the whataboutisms that come after learning an uncomfortable truth, but I don’t think we’re in a place where it goes without saying that white privilege doesn’t mean nothing bad ever happens to whites. Just like anyone, I’ve had challenges and setbacks in my life. But at the same time, it’s been my privilege to live in a society where I have never had to overcome obstacles that impact me (and not others) because of an inherent part of my humanity, like the color of my skin or the language I speak because of my family’s origins.
I can remember years and years ago becoming aware that life was pushing me forward like I was standing in one of those lazy rivers at a waterpark. This article won’t be long enough to list examples of my interaction with the systems of white supremacy, but the faces of those systems have always listened when I spoke. I am easily trusted. My mother would tell you I'm charming and she could be right but there's more to it than that. When I interact with a college admissions office, or the police, or a mortgage lender, I’m treated exactly how I would expect and deserve based on my behavior and a generous helping of benefit-of-the-doubt. It’s a shame that this is a privilege. I wish everyone was treated this way and I think a lot of people still don’t know that not everyone is.
Systemic white supremacy is not designed to be evident to white people. This makes me a de facto tool of systemic white supremacy. This realization can be jarring but I urge white people reading this to accept that white supremacy doesn’t need you to be actively intentionally racist to continue to work. You can be cheerful and polite and kind and you will still be a part of the machine that devalues and oppresses people of color.
Don’t spend time and energy feeling or expressing guilt for this fact. Accept the discomfort that you benefit and don’t know how to fix it overnight. Be critical of your thoughts, emotions and assumptions. Probe the world around you for chances to question why things work the way they do. Question your own motives. Know that answers may not come easily or quickly or clearly. When I was asked to write this article, I just about immediately split in two wanting to use my voice to help and worrying that I could be displacing another voice that needs lifting up. I don’t know the answer to that dichotomy, but I asked.
I ask a lot of questions I don’t know the answers to. I mess up and embarrass myself and when I do, I try to remember that defending my ignorance doesn’t benefit anyone including me even if it makes me feel better. Part of my privilege is choosing every day to accept the uncertainty and discomfort of dismantling white supremacist culture instead of floating in that lazy river designed to fool me into thinking I'm the center of the universe.
Interested in exploring white privilege further? This Toolkit for "What Is White Privilege, Really?” from Teaching Tolerance is an excellent place to start.