Listen To Article
On my mother’s side, my Dutch-American ancestry has been here since before the American Civil War. My people were among the first immigrants from the Netherlands to put down roots on the western shore of Lake Michigan. I have a picture of a couple dozen elderly Hollanders gathered in some lakeshore park in 1898 for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dutch people in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, my great-great grandfather among them.
My father’s grandparents left the island of Terschelling for America in 1868, once the American Civil War was over. Terschelling is a beautiful place–I’ve been there a few times, sat alone at the harbor and wondered what my life would have been like had C. C. and Neeltje Schaap stayed, if I’d been born and reared on that kidney-bean Frisian island with all those spacious beaches.
My mother’s mother could recite the Heidelberg Catechism in Dutch because that’s the way she had to learn it in her turn-of-the-century Dutch Reformed congregation. Ironically, she didn’t understand Dutch. She was, after all, third-generation American.
A man I know who knows and loves local history told me about a largely unkept cemetery just outside of Hull, Iowa. No one gets laid to rest there anymore. For the most part, the community whose people are buried there is gone. “There’s a black guy buried in that cemetery,” he told me once upon a time. I’d have to look really hard to find the grave of another African-American anywhere in the county, I’m sure.
In the 2020 election, Donald J. Trump would have had to raise the numbers of his base by five percent in order to offset changes occurring in the demographic profiles of the red states he’d won in 2016–just to offset the changes in populace. The times–like American skin tones–are a’changing.
In 2008, I walked across the room during the Iowa Caucuses to join those caucus-goers who supported the candidacy of Barack Obama. I’d been moved by the speech he gave at the Democratic Convention a few years earlier, really moved. He seemed thoughtful, a good man. I’d never liked the Clintons much, so Hillary was out; and a bald man like me thought John Edwards loved his hair far too much. Besides, I thought Obama had a chance to heal the nation–our first Black president.
I’m guessing that election was the first time I heard people repeat what that little girl up top of the page has written on her sweatshirt. I thought the idea was cute, and nice, obviously true, and really sweet.
And now it’s happening again with the new VP, Kamala Harris. Some town in India went wild when Biden/Harris won. What’s more, Ms. Harris’s father was African. She went to Howard University, a traditionally black college in Washington D. C.
Native people I know are thrilled to see Deb Haaland as the new nominee for Secretary of the Interior. Here she is, a registered member of the Laguna Pueblo, just west a bit from Albuquerque. She calls herself a 35th generation American.
She doesn’t look at all like me, but she looks a heckuva lot like my friends.
I understand what that young lady up top has printed on her sweat shirt, but the line doesn’t thrill me like it does her or her parents or so many people of color.
Why not? Because for my whole life I’ve been blessed with white privilege. Because for my whole life the only people I saw in significant seats of national politics looked pretty much like the gent I see in a mirror every morning. White privilege is something I’ve borne without knowing it or owning it. But it’s always been there.
Tell me this–how is it flesh-toned Band-Aids were always pink?
In 1967, when I was a first-year college student, anti-miscegenation laws were finally totally repealed in the United States–it was no longer against the law to marry someone from another race. That year, sixteen states still had such laws on their books. My parents used to say that mixed-race marriages were very sad because the children were born to suffer not being accepted in either white or black communities.
Today, people for whom my parents felt so much pathos include an ex-President and our own newly-elected VP.
I wish I didn’t have to say it, but the preponderance of human beings who marched on the Capitol a few weeks ago looked very much like the person I see every morning in the bathroom mirror.
White privilege is what I have, and what so many of those who do don’t want to lose.
In a nation where all men and women are created equal, white privilege is a synonym, just another word, for racism.