“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
Maya Angelou said it best (of course), so let’s unpack her words of wisdom.
The recent Black Lives Matter movement has brought something to my attention that should have been at the forefront of my everyday consciousness a long, long time ago: I have been living my day-to-day life in the comfort and safety of my white privilege.
I realize now the extent to which I’ve been failing to recognize all of the times when my skin color had — or perhaps more accurately, didn’t have — an impact on the way I was received by the people in my orbit.
There are no two ways about it: it’s downright pathetic how long it took me to fully grasp that fact — especially because I’m no stranger to talking about privilege. As a white feminist on a crusade against toxic masculinity, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about privilege as it applies to men. However, I was failing to put as much energy into understanding my own privilege as a white person as I was putting into understanding the relative privilege of men.
When I point out examples of male privilege, the most common response I receive by far is a look of, “Oh my god…YEAH, that is so obviously a real thing…how did I never realize that before?” And that’s how I’m feeling now. (Naturally, the second most popular response is a fire-then-aim attempt to counter my claim, which — let’s be honest — never takes anyone very far.)
Herein lies the great challenge of seeing your own privilege: privilege is invisible when it works in your favor. Having privilege is like floating on a river, going downstream with the current — it feels natural. You have no reason to fight back against it because it’s getting you where you’re trying to go.
Admittedly, I haven’t figured out how to navigate — or even fully grasp — the very complex relationship between racism and sexism. I’m still uncertain if there’s a “right way” to advocate for women without sounding tone deaf about my comparative privilege as a white woman.
But ultimately, that’s not the point, because Black Lives Matter isn’t about me, and it’s not about getting what I require in order to feel comfortable. It’s about being aware of how I exist in the world in relation to black people, and how I can take meaningful action that will counteract centuries of racism and racial inequity in America.
I realize now that I was leaning far too heavily on the fact that I’m “not racist” as an excuse from doing any real work. I believed I wasn’t part of the problem because my head and my heart were in the right place. While I’ve always fully acknowledged the racial inequality of American institutions and believed that white privilege is immoral and harmful and wrong, that isn’t good enough.
Like so many non-racist white Americans, my good intentions weren’t moving the needle — because I wasn’t actually doing anything to upend systemic racism. In that, I was failing to be a true ally to Black Americans. As Edmund Burke said (or possibly someone else said — the attribution of this is up for debate): “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
For me — and hopefully for many white people in America — the current Black Lives Matter movement has been a much-needed wakeup call that I need to do better. It has highlighted how much more I have to learn — and it is a privilege to get to learn about racism instead of experiencing it firsthand my entire life.
I want to put in the work to listen and learn so that my awareness of racial inequality becomes part of my everyday life — and not as some type of on-trend misguided self-improvement project, but because I believe deeply that the fight against racial injustice will require white people to change the lens through which see the world. Long after the #BLM Instagram posts fade and the protests are no longer in the headlines, I want my white privilege to become something that I can never unsee.
The podcasts below are just a few of the many incredible resources available for anyone who is dedicated to being part of the solution.
Because once we know better, we will do better.
Scene On Radio’s “Seeing White” Series
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University | John Biewen
Scene on Radio is a Peabody-nominated podcast that dives deeply into the issues central to American society. The show not only explores who we were as a society, but examines how that relates to the America we see today.
In Scene On Radio’s 14-episode “Seeing White” series — released between February to August 2017 — host and producer John Biewen brings in an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika to take a hard look at the roots and meaning of white supremacy.
The “Seeing White” series addresses the topics in race and racism that are incredibly deserving of our attention, such as: “Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring.”
The series also explores questions about where the notion of “whiteness” came from, what it means, and why it continues to pervade our society today.
Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify
Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race
Panoply | Anna Holmes, Baratunde Thurston, Raquel Cepeda, Tanner Colby
Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race published their last episode in 2017, but that doesn’t make this show any less worthy of inclusion on our list. Cohosts Anna Holmes, Baratunde Thurston, Raquel Cepeda and Tanner Colby represent a variety of racial backgrounds, allowing for a multidimensional and inclusive conversation about race.
The show addresses “the ways we can’t talk, don’t talk, would rather not talk, but intermittently, fitfully, embarrassingly do talk about culture, identity, politics, power, and privilege in our pre-post-yet-still-very-racial America.
Apple Podcasts reviewer Krysta Best says, “As a white person doing my best to be a better ally, this podcast gives me the space to learn, be held accountable for the ways in which I perpetuate the problems, and gives me lots of food for thought about how to be and do better. I’m appreciative for the conversation and the opportunity to spend the rest of my day thinking and wrestling with whatever topics were covered in that episode. LOVE!”
Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify
NPR | Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji
Code Switch features journalists of color having honest yet empathetic conversations about race, ethnicity and identity. The show explores how race impacts every part of society — politics, pop culture, sports, history, and so much more.
The podcast challenges listeners to reexamine their relationship with and understanding of race and identity in order to ultimately gain a greater perspective on their lives and the world.”
Apple Podcasts reviewer Jewtopia states: “Thank you for making a podcast that addresses the difficult and necessary issues and having the conversations we need to be having with ourselves, families, neighbors, and communities. You both have done an amazing job breaking down issues and language of race and gender identity; giving white people like me a way to understand and empathize with oppressed minorities and what daily struggles they face. I know I can never truly understand, but for me this podcast gives me a starting point.”
Listen to Code Switch: Apple Podcasts | Spotify
The New York Times | Nikole Hannah-Jonas
This podcast is part of The 1619 Project, an initiative developed by The New York Times Magazine in 2019. The project re-examined the legacy of slavery in the United States on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia.
Hosted by The 1619 Project‘s creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, the 1619 podcast went on to receive the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.
This podcast illuminates the history and legacy of how the United States was built simultaneously on “the language of freedom and the economics of slavery” with the “long shadow of slavery” impacting nearly every aspect of the country we built.
1619 highlights the meaningful ways that black Americans have shaped American society and culture while providing a much-needed history lesson. This podcast gives context to the Black Lives Matter movement we see today, and reminds us that Black Americans have endured many generations of racial injustice.
Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify
Good Ancestor Podcast
Layla F. Saad
Good Ancestor is a podcast that interviews change-makers & culture-shapers, as they explore what it means to be a good ancestor. Host Layla Saad is an author, speaker & teacher on the topics of race, identity, leadership, personal transformation & social change. Her book, Me and White Supremacy, is a New York Times and Amazon bestseller.
Layla’s work is “driven by a powerful desire to become a good ancestor; to live and work in ways that leave a legacy of healing and liberation, especially for black girls and black women.”
Speaking out on her Good Ancestor Podcast is one of many ways that Layla confronts “the oppressive systems of white supremacy and patriarchy, while offering important teachings and tools for transforming consciousness, cultivating personal anti-racism practice and taking responsibility for our individual and collective healing.” (Source)