The Pain of Valuing Difference: A Reflection on White Privilege

“Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged…we have been taught to either ignore our differences or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change.  It is not our differences that divide us.  It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences. In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”                                                                                                          ~Audre Lorde 

I’m not black but sometimes I wish I were. To feel what it’s like, To understand more completely.

My compassion wrecks me.  My sympathy, smothering.

I realize that I have privilege in this white body, and I feel white shame all the time.   I’m shaken by my suspicion:

Have all of my life’s greatest blessings been rooted in white privilege?  Are each of my successes dependent on the suffering of entire groups of people, even those that I love and welcome into my life and my heart?

I lean in…

priv·i·lege /ˈpriv(ə)lij/

noun: privilege plural noun: privileges

  1. a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.: “education is a right, not a privilege” “he has been accustomed all his life to wealth and privilege”.
    synonyms: advantage, right, benefit, prerogative, entitlement, birthright, due, concession, freedom, liberty

My special-ness implies that only certain bodies are afforded  rights. My advantage comes at the expense of the disadvantaged, the overlooked bodies of color. My immunity is founded on societal superiority, the superficiality of the color of my skin.

I listen intently to what my pain is telling me, for the message it conveys. I cry rivers of tears, not knowing what they mean or where they really come from. I sift through, sit with, the discomfort, shame and disappointment of my privilege.

I lean further in… 

I was born into this white body, in a country where whiteness is ruled as supreme.  I was raised to believe that I could achieve anything I put my mind and heart to.  My ancestral DNA lets me relax, feeling comfortable and confident in any and every situation.  Distrust is unnatural to me.  I have accessed any and every opportunity under the sun, and my path has been smooth.  I have enjoyed a quality education, employment opportunities, financial means and political and legal benefits based on my white-ness.  

People listen to me. They care what I have to say. I am not questioned.

This white privilege, affording me a life of relative ease, free from struggle and threat makes it easy to sit meditatively, to contemplate, to access peace within.  My practices put me in touch with my deepest seeded thoughts and emotions.  These practices uncover my pain and insecurity, my negative thought cycles, my conditioning and socialization.  My practices lead me to the heart of my being and the common thread that weaves through humanity.  

I lean even further in…

The human thread woven through my heart  aches for the bodies of color, whose oppression has manifested as my privilege. The pain textures my vantage point and brings me down in just the right way. It is a necessary pain, one that we need to feel individually, interpersonally, collectively.

My sincerest hope is that you feel the pain of inequity too, that you’re human like me.  We can’t turn a blind eye to the injustices and suffering of black folks any longer.  To see them more clearly we have to see ourselves unfavorably, as benefitting for too long from our country’s very real oppression and systemic racism.  We must come to terms with our white privilege, and do everything in our power to reverse it.  We need to come up with ways not just to honor the black culture we love, but the PEOPLE who lend it to us.  Let us find ways to give back and ways to pay forward.  Ways to listen, to offer, to lead and be led towards the healing and decolonization of our country.  Take my hand, the time has come…  

And to all the black bodies in my life who have seen me for more than the color of my skin:

Friends and lovers, teachers, clients and colleagues, fellow yogis and meditators, folks who smiled at me on the street with openness, a spirit of connectivity: I see you. I respect you. I love you.

To all the black bodies who have positively impacted my children:

Taught them, laughed and played with them, danced with them, learned and grown with them, loved them: I see you. I respect you. I love you.

You MATTER, to me…  to this world.

You matter and you don’t need me, or anybody, or any movement to tell you that.  You matter so much that nothing else matters without you!  Life would hold no meaning without you mattering.  I can’t imagine living in a world where you don’t matter.  You matter so much that I’ll joyfully spend an eternity celebrating all the richness and beauty you bring to my heart, my life, this world.  It could never be enough, and I know this.  But I hope beyond all hope that it’s a start…


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