As a hospital chaplain, I’ll never forget my visit with Mary, who had raised two successful adult children, one a hospital pharmacist in Boston, while traveling the world with her military husband. After he had retired, they returned to the States where she decided to try her hand at driving a local truck for an overnight delivery company. Even during the frenetic and crowded holiday season, Mary had managed to beat most of her co-workers’ records for on-time delivery and number of package pick-ups. Even though she was making good money and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of driving her truck in Boston’s narrow streets, she quit her job after about a year. When I asked her what had happened, she recounted stories of being bullied by her co-workers and fruitless conversations with her supervisor. For Mary was African-American and her fellow drivers were largely Euro-Americans. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been bullied because I’m Euro-American. Have you?

As Peggy McIntosh writes in, “The Invisible Backpack,” frequently and routinely, our African-American sisters and brother encounter the following situations that Euro-Americans don’t encounter:

  • When I’m told about my national heritage, people of my skin color are ignored;
  • I’m asked to speak for all people of my skin color;
  • When I ask to speak to “the person in charge,” I almost always face someone of
    another skin color;
  • If a traffic cop pulls me over, my skin color plays a role.
  • I go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling isolated, out-of-
    place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared because of my skin

She goes on to say that Euro-Americans are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, typical, and average. In fact, Euro-Americans are trained to think of their lives as “ideal,” and benefitting others meant making “them” like “us.” While all persons deserve access to good education, healthcare, jobs, housing, and nutrition, my journey to the destination was paved with smooth, wide concrete, while Mary’s path was filled with boulders and ditches in spite of her tremendous motivation and hard work.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” While much of the easily seen, active racism has diminished in this country, embedded racism, both individual and systemic, still puts African-Americans at extreme disadvantages, and furthermore, it goes largely ignored by Euro-Americans. I don’t know about you, but I want to work towards Martin Luther King’s dream by increasing my awareness, not only of my individual racism, but also that of the systems I’m part of. Won’t you join me?

Submitted by Karen Lubic for The Social Justice Commission

Based on Peggy McIntosh’s, “The Invisible Backpack.” If you’d like to read more, go to https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf

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