But that was so long ago

I am a 60-year-old white woman living outside a very small, very rural village in a very, very white part of the world.

I am uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable with the comfort of my life. I am uncomfortable with the obvious white privilege that surrounds me and my community.

You may choose to misunderstand me, but I’d rather you didn’t. There is enough of that already.

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I’m not ungrateful. I’m not unappreciative of the relative ease of my life, with the advantages I didn’t understand were advantages, with the relative safety in which my children grew up in this America.

I’m uncomfortable with it all, knowing it is an accident of birth, the luck of being born a member of the skin color which has dominated this land, this society, and our educational system for generations. I didn’t earn it. I just got it. I’m uncomfortable knowing there are many people who look like me, who accidentally were born into a white world where they belonged, who don’t understand.

Our schools taught me that America was a good land, a just land, a free land. I was taught about the mistakes made, about the displacement of the natives here, about the enslavement of the people brought here from other lands. But it was taught in a that-was-so-long-ago kind of way. And certainly with little detail to create understanding and empathy, or sense the prejudice that might still exist. We were better than that now, surely.

My suburban neighborhood in Ulster County had no minority families. The public schools I attended were diverse, but my parents sent me to Coleman, the county’s private, Catholic high school when I reached my freshman year. It was overwhelmingly white. I didn’t ask myself why. I didn’t ask myself if that was a choice.

My parents were afraid of the peace movement. They were convinced the black-power movement was a violent, destructive force. They were Reagan Republicans. They came from immigrant families, from German and from Jewish backgrounds, but they had been raised to see themselves only as Americans. They identified with American oppressors, not the oppressed.

They would not be surprised, though they’d disapprove, to learn I feel the way I feel. And they’d shake their heads in disappointment at the next generation.

My daughter is a justice warrior. She is outraged by the hypocrisy of our society. My son has detached from the news, an effort to stay sane in an insane time.

While I am uncomfortable and troubled, I am convinced it is way past time to make this right. I just don’t see how it happens. But I know it must. Because we, America, are wrong. We have been wrong, and we will continue to be wrong until we are forced to change.

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