A teenage girl stirred up quite a bit of controversy with her documentary re-creating Dr. Clark’s doll test that was used to make the case against segregation (in Brown vs. the Board of Education). The results of her experiment every are every bit as tragic today as it was in the 60s. Something in our culture still propagates this destructive (self-)image.

There was a reason for Amiri Baraka having to start a “Black is beautiful” movement and a reason why Ossie Davis said in his eulogy of Malcolm X, “Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people.” It was about the reclamation of dignity. As the documentary makes painfully obvious, it is important to continue to have conversations and ask questions.

We continue to have debates about racism (what it is and how it affects people differently), reparations, affirmative action and so on. Too many times it is seen as black people wallowing in self-pity, a mentality of victimhood (although some folks also feel threatened by the rhetoric of escaping this victimhood). There is an assumed hubris of knowing the “answers” to the “Negro problem” because, as I will inevitably hear it, black people are too ignorant to work out our own solution.

It’s usually at this point in the conversation that white friends of mine feel unduly put upon. “They didn’t own slaves” and so on. They sometimes get defensive around discussions about white privilege. Why? Because the tricky part about conversations is that we aren’t always hearing the same thing. White privilege is not “all white people are evil.” It is not that all white people are out to get black people. It is not all white people are racist or “benefit” from racism. It is, however, the acknowledgment of the reality that there is a legacy of racism.

I don’t care if you agree with it or not. What I am saying is that there is a point of view, a mindset, a perspective that I’m coming from. Our story is the paradigm from which we operate. You might not “get it”, maybe because your story seems so removed from mine. You could see if you could contribute to the solution. You could see what you can do to challenge your thinking. You could see where you can find and recognize injustice and fight it where you are.

Or you could listen.

Let me try this another way. There is also male privilege in our culture. It doesn’t mean all men are evil or that they hate women. It does, however, point to the (historical) fact that the mentality that went into the founding of our society, that created the infrastructure of the culture we live in, was patriarchal. There is a legacy of patriarchal though that we have to deal with, systemic issues as well as heart issues – neither of which are easily rooted out. From closing the inequality of pay gap between the sexes to sexist attitudes in the work place as “old boy clubs/networks” are dismantled.

It’s the (sometimes perceived) attitude built into the system that causes so many to give up before they begin. It’s why I care so much about images and depictions of black people in news, movies, television, etc. It’s why I keep harping on the power of words. It’s why my mother so impressed upon us why we shouldn’t buy into being told what we can and can’t do. Look at the recent rise of black quarterback. It’s not like black people suddenly learned how to throw the football. The mentality was that black men weren’t smart enough to be a quarterback. So they were steered towards being a wide receiver or a running back. You don’t become “firsts” by buying into old stereotypes and accepting old barriers.

Progress has been made, but some battles still need to be fought. Hearts changed and lingering hatreds rooted out. This year’s Super Bowl marks the first time a black coach (much less two) has coached their team to the championship game. Lovie Smith, when asked about the significance of possibly being the first said that “Progress will really be made when something like this is not news.” The sad fact that he had to then concede was that “we’re not there yet.”

But we’re trying. One conversation at a time.

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