Watching a discussion of The Butler, the question arises once more: why do so few White people (along with a lot of others) not get the effects of racism? I know so few Whites who demonstrate a true sense of responsibility in this matter. Those who do seem to be on the edge of the political middle, not leftist but pretty far left from the mid-point. The rest of Whites just admit ignorance, shrug their shoulders and say, “I guess I just don’t understand.” I recall the Whites in the counselor education program I went through who rejected the attempts of our professors to get them to wrestle with these issues by saying, “I don’t intend to work in schools with a minority population.” Most are retired or retiring now (that was in 1973), but probably glad to leave behind student populations which became increasingly people of color and immigrants throughout their career and esp in the 90s.
One person does come to mind. My wife’s first counseling job put her in friendship with another counselor, an older White lady with a nice Southern accent. Char was a delightful person and despite leaving that school after one year, my wife kept up a close relationship with Char over several decades, mainly over lunch. One lunch, as they were talking, Char suddenly began crying and told my wife how guilty she felt b/c her grandfather had owned slaves. My wife thanked her for recognizing the proximity to their own lives of slavery (my wife’s great-grandfather was a slave) but assured her it had nothing to do with her.
But that last statement comes with a caveat. Char recognized that she had had a kind of life made easier by her color; most Whites reject that notion. That’s why Andrew Hacker used to ask his White college students to put a figure on how much they would need to deal with suddenly being turned Black the next morning when they woke up. The students put various amounts out and Hacker then said, “And that’s how much you value having a White skin.” So one’s ancestor owning slaves may have little to do with one’s current status in terms of direct benefits, but under the system generated by the country’s attempts to deal with slavery and sudden emancipation, being White wound up determining most of your life.
THAT latter statement comes with a caveat: many Black families have given their children the message: “You can be anything you want to be.” Treading that line, between inspiration and reality, can be very tricky for a Black family. White professionals: teachers, counselors, administrators, doctors, pastors, police, and so forth, who emphasize inspiration but ignore reality are just making themselves feel comfortable.