I remember history class when we learning about the civil rights movement, from the safe distance of a generation or two. We were not taught that the fight for civil rights was ongoing. After all, schools had been integrated, votes had been given, people could sit anywhere they wanted on the bus. End of a story told us by a teacher whose name I no longer remember.
I had wished I had been there, at that march years ago. Not because of any unusual level of ardor for justice, although I wished for justice then and now. I had the same wish to have gone back to WWII Europe. I had the same wish to experience major events in history, great tides of change. To be part of the change.
It took me some growing up and looking back to realize that change is happening. I have memories that I will pass on to those who come later, and learn about this era from their own safe distances, from the perspective of the problems or blindness of their own generation. But most of what I feel I need to pass on is relevant to many today.
I have had the privilege of that slow realization of the need for continuing change. By virtue of my skin color and upbringing (tho my parents always tried to instil in us an understanding and sensitivity to others) I have been able to not really, fully realize how far our country and still has to go. I had the privilege of believing the story to be over.
Many today are still unaware of their privilege. Or they are aware and are happy about it. I have seen enough hate, both outright and insidious, to wish to give people the benefit of the doubt on the matter. But the fact remains that there is a big difference between my experience of going about life and the experiences of many, many others.
For a girl who grew up wishing she could have marched on Washington so many years ago, it is an interesting turn of events that I find myself watching it on the news today, from thousands of miles away in Hawaii. Demographically, Hawaii is very different from the rest of the country. It creates an environment in which I can experience a small taste of what others go through every day. I am having trouble finding a job in the nonprofit field, and have been told outright in an interview it is because I am obviously not from around here. They didn’t specify but I assume that it is a reference to my whiteness, as they went on to explain that I am not approachable to ethnic and local Hawaiians. An employment agency told me outright they do not work with people from the mainland. A few weeks ago I was pulled out of a group of people crossing the street at a crosswalk and ticketed for entering the crosswalk while the red hand flashed, I was nowhere near the last one to enter the crosswalk, I was however the only white woman. All of this frustrates me, because of the injustice of it, I don’t deserve to be treated differently because of where I am from or what I look like. No one does. But my experiences are small and relatively innocuous compared to the systematic prejudice and inequality so many people, strangers and friends, face every day back on the mainland. No one deserves it.
I am watching the speeches on the news with the privilege of viewing the event with some irony. Our country came so far, and is in many ways moving backwards at the present. Ironic, right? Maybe a little, except by privilege of my life experiences I will never know, really know, what it feels like to still need the freedom that so many are still fighting for. In some ways yes, women’s rights and equality are being contested in many parts of the country and world. But it is still easier by far to be a woman if you are also white.
White people have privilege in this country, and part of privilege is the ability to go through life oblivious to the struggles of others. This oblivion makes good, decent people complicit in perpetuating that struggle. We are all people, none of us are free unless all of us are. For all that is wrong with the world, I still have hope, hope that is bolstered by watching the news coverage this morning. But the moral laziness and blindness is something that not one of us can afford.