As I reflect on what I can do as white woman in America to change our society, I am overwhelmed with doubt and uncertainty.
by Trinity Mahan Walsh
I grew up with White Privilege that I didn’t even know I had. Growing up in Loveland in the 80’s and 90’s, it was a pretty white town. I went to Loveland Schools for 13 years, with maybe 3-5 classmates of color. It never seemed weird to me, but I did notice. We really didn’t talk about race in my house. Not because we were afraid to talk about it or my parents are bad people (they are loving and wonderful), but it just wasn’t anything we “needed” to consider. White privilege.
Trinity Mahan Walsh grew up in Loveland, Ohio, graduated LHS in 1994, and is now a Guidance Counselor at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.
I often thought about what it was like for my black classmates to live in Loveland. To be a very, very small minority in our school and town. It wasn’t until I was in high school, I had my first real black friend. Yep… HIGH SCHOOL! I wasn’t as brave as I am now to ask the question, “How do you feel living here?” I am sure it was hard, but I am grateful for her seeing me as “safe” and accepting. I wanted to be her friend because she is awesome and not because she is black.
I’ve always considered myself to be accepting of everyone and the least racist person around. As I reflect on my friend choices over the years, I must have known early on who had the same types of life views as me, as I am still friends with several of those people today. But still, my circle of friends doesn’t include too many people of color. I’d like to believe that this isn’t a choice, it’s just how my life is, but now as I really think about it, it is a choice.
I live in a predominantly white community and work at a predominately white school. Searching out friends of color to say that I have diverse friends seems disingenuous. I don’t avoid it, my life is such that I very rarely travel in circles where my diversity factor could even be expanded.
Why did I move to a town much like where I grew up? Comfort. Is that bad to say? I don’t think so. We all want to live where we are comfortable. Does it help expand our understanding of each other as human beings? Not necessarily, but we can choose to find other ways to make sure we do find ways to understand each other.
I don’t mind if I look “stupid” because I can guarantee that these white faced teenagers have the same questions as me.
One of the greatest blessings in my life has been my friendship with Elise Carter. You guessed it… she’s black. She and I have the most frank and honest conversations about what it’s like to be a person of color, especially working in a predominately white school.
She has opened my eyes to issues that I didn’t know existed… not because I chose to look the other way, but as a part of my white privilege I never had to consider. And, what I consider to be the most powerful part of our friendship is that we OPENLY talk about race issues.
At the high school where we work, she and I often have very honest and frank conversations in front of students. I don’t mind if I look “stupid” because I can guarantee that these white faced teenagers have the same questions as me. And, like I was in high school with my friend, they are too ashamed and scared to ask the questions. So I will ask for them.
I want them to see that she and I can have real conversations about what it’s like to be a person of color in America. She will be the first to tell the students, “I am not a spokesperson for the black community, but I will give you my perspective.” Probably one of the most powerful conversations we can have with the students is to tell them, it’s OK to call her black. She IS black! “Guys, you can call me black. I know I am! Are you offended when I call you white?” This is a common phrase from her.
One of the most heartbreaking conversations that we have ever had is about “the talk.”
One of the most heartbreaking conversations that we have ever had is about “the talk.” As we started that conversation, I honestly and truly thought we were having a totally different conversation. I couldn’t understand why she was talking to me about giving her then 5-year-old son “the talk.”
As a mother of white boys “the talk” is about sex.
As a mother of black boys “the talk” is VERY different. It was never something I had ever thought about; I didn’t have to. And if you are like me, and are still wondering what “the talk” is, ask yourself these questions: Do I have to warn my son about the way he approaches a white woman? Do I have to warn my son that when he is running, it might appear that he is not just getting exercise? Do I have to warn my son that when he is 16 and gets pulled over for going a few miles over the speed limit, the situation can turn ugly very, very quickly? Do I have to warn my son that when he is hanging out with his white friends and things get rowdy, he might be the one blamed for anything that might go wrong?
And this list goes on and on.
I want to break into tears when I think about anyone ever wanting to harm her son just because of the color of his skin. It hurts me to my core. He is kind, loving, inquisitive, and hilarious – just the same as any other 7-year-old boy. And it isn’t just her son, but every mother’s black son.
If you’re a dumb white girl with white privilege like me, start asking questions.
I am grateful every day that she is willing to be my friend and continues to educate this white girl about the reality of the world. If you’re a dumb white girl with white privilege like me, start asking questions. IT IS OK! We can only get better as a society when we start asking each other what it’s like to be them. You may not be able to relate personally, but you certainly can try and understand.
I am trying, and when I don’t hit the mark, I hope that someone calls me out on it.
I wasn’t raised to be racist or not racist. And now recognizing that white privilege, I am trying to make some different choices in raising my children with open and honest conversations about the world we live in. I am trying, and when I don’t hit the mark, I hope that someone calls me out on it.
You may judge what is happening with riots in your own personal way. You don’t have to agree with what is happening around our country, but just consider the why.
As I reflect on what I can do as white woman in America to change our society, I am overwhelmed with doubt and uncertainty. What I know I can do is to keep having those open and frank conversations with Elise and with our students. I am an educator, and that is my gift. This is one way that I can use it. You don’t need to be a trained educator though to have these conversations, too.
I’ll leave you with this one last thought…
I’ll leave you with this one last thought… do not surround yourselves with people only like you. Your face-to-face personal interactions, but even easier on social media. I am “friends” with so many different types of people with so many different perspectives on the world on social media. I actively choose to not de-friend people who have sometimes very different views than me. Yes, sometimes what they post makes me mad – raging mad – but I cannot grow as a person if I do not read what they are saying, consider it, and then come to my own conclusion. The greatest gift we can give each other is agreeing to disagree, but at the same time agree to just be good and loving humans.
If you need some more perspective on the issue of “the talk,” take a few minutes to read this powerful article: