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Kittredge: White Like Me

Members of Black Lives Matter have suggested that stemming the rising tide of racism in this country cannot be led by people of color. Ebony Nyoni, co-founder of the Vermont chapter of the organization said recently, “This isn’t our battle anymore; it’s yours and we can’t forgive you if you don’t ask for forgiveness.” Initially this was a little bewildering to me, but as I’ve come to examine my own white privilege, I get exactly what she meant. The shocking events in Charlottesville last week made me oddly ashamed of being white and deeply fearful for our country.

Until recently I’d not thought a lot about white privilege and that’s precisely the point. For my entire life I’ve reaped the rewards of assumed entitlement. Being white in the United States for the last three centuries has meant being a member of the cultural elite. Whites have enjoyed the power, the money and the status. We’ve taken for granted the well paved road before us, the doors that open upon our approach, our ability for the most part to chart our own destinies. Whatever challenges we’ve encountered have not been about the color of our skin. We’ve taught our children that they can be anything they want to be; we’ve trusted a system engineered to support our endeavors and advantaged position.

We live, especially in Vermont, in a white world. We live in our heads in a white world, a world created by whites so that we might flourish. For the most part this isn’t conscious; it’s just the way it is. But the cultural fabric of the United States is changing; according to most calculations, by 2040 whites will be in the minority. Some have suggested that this is partially responsible for the rising tide of racism flooding this country, the push to reclaim America and make it great, make it white again.

Charlottesville was the outing of white supremacy. I now understand what Ebony was saying. This week I am deeply sorry that people of my race could incite such violence and express such hatred for people of color. Now that it’s current news, I get it. The challenge is to understand the legacy of white privilege, racism, white supremacy and that has been going on for centuries. And feel deep in our bones our own culpability.