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Looking for the Right Words

by Teresa MI Schaefer, PHD

For hour upon hour, I have been looking for the right words.

I have searched my memory of experiences from early childhood, through every phase of life until now. I have reflected on moments of learning. Moments in which a person of color was willing to share with me the ignorance and insensitivity of a statement I made. Moments in which a group of five-year-olds reached out to touch my skin and feel my hair. A moment in which a collection of 5th graders chanted the name of Rodney King as I walked past them in the hall of their school. A moment in which I turned to those boys and said to them, “No one ever, ever, should be treated like that. It is wrong.”

As I look for those words, the right words, I have listened to and read news reports. I have read magazine pieces, blogs, and op-eds. I now know 75 ways I can fight for racial justice, 10 evidentiary points as to the reality of white privilege.

I understand that white privilege is mine. I did not ask for this privilege. But I enjoy it – in a blissfully, ignorant way. And I am struggling with how to change that.

Just as I did not ask for the privilege, persons of color did not ask for bias, or prejudice, or hatred. Neither of us asked for it. But IT is here. IT is real. And IT is painful.

I was part of the color blind. I was nice to people because they were people. Color, status, religion are not variables I use to measure a person’s worth. I get angry when I feel judged for not comparing up to someone else’s standards. The people I see protesting are angry. Angry for reasons I think I understand. Angry for reasons I do not yet understand. And, angry for reasons I may never understand.

For I am white.

And for this I cannot make amends.

I cannot make amends for a white officer killing a black man. Neither can the officers who would never dream of killing a person – black or white.

I cannot educate myself fast enough. But I don’t know what I don’t know. I do not know what to do. I do not know what to say. I do not know the right words.

All I can say is, “I am sorry, terribly sorry. No one ever, ever, should be treated like that. It is wrong.”


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