Although its true I can not jump, I actually can dance—which is my way of saying that although stereotypes may have some value, they are very limited. And though I am, in fact, a middle-age, White, Protestant, tall male, knowing that about me may not really tell you very much.
I was born into a society where all the good jobs, houses, schools, and most opportunities would go to my peers and me. Over the past 40 years, the assumption that my group would be entitled to these privileges has been somewhat diminished and will probably continue to be so until at some point they will no longer exist. The other White males and I, who understand the inevitability of this transition, wait and watch. We hope that it goes fairly smoothly and occasionally remember when we were the “be all and the end all.” Before feeling too sorry for us, remember that we still own just about everything, run just about everything, and recently brought the planet to the very verge of destruction.
I do not think that any other group of people could have, or would have, developed the nuclear bomb and have come so close to destroying the planet. It took generation after generation of a particular kind of a sense of entitlement and lack of concern about the consequences of our well-intended actions, actions we took if we were able to define our own motives as pure.
Although I am not a very good middle-class White male, I have been admitted to the secret councils, have been taught the sacred words, and been taken to the top of the mountain to look down on the rest of the earth. It just did not work for me. Not because of anything I did or qualities I possessed—I wanted to feel it. I moved frequently as a child. I never really fit in. In fact, I am a traitor to my race, gender, and class. I may be a marginal member, but it is, nonetheless, my tribe or group or team. I hope that as a member with a different perspective I can serve as a bridge between diverse peoples.
I realize that it will be difficult for many Black readers of this article not to be distracted by the fact that I look very much like someone who abused, enslaved, or raped someone in their family. We have done quite a bit of that over the years. I am sorry, very sorry. And although I did not participate, I did benefit. I benefited from the dividends of the privilege. I benefited greatly and have passed on those benefits to my children. In thinking about my/our team's behaviors, I realize that we go to bed every night—on some level—praying that God is not just. And that you are kind. If there is a just God and/or you are not a kind and peaceful people, one day, as our privilege slips to a certain level, we will be made to account for what we have done.
I am struck by the breathtaking contradiction that we are all just alike, and we are all completely different. We all share the same configuration of a head, body, two arms, two legs, 10 fingers, and 10 toes. We share the same goals of wanting to be able to love and be loved, the same desires for our children's well-being and happiness; 99.9% of our genetic code is identical.
Yet we are all completely different down to the fingerprints at the end of our fingers, our ear lobes, and our unique faces. And we are even more different on the inside, in our personalities, than we are on the outside. We can chose to use our sameness to bring us together and our differences to support one another. Our sameness enables us, if we are open, to understand each other on the deepest levels; to achieve very high degrees of empathy. Our differences enable us to support one another, to compensate for one another's shortcomings. If you will do my taxes, I will make your speeches.
I understand things as parts of systems. Kurt Lewin's theory of systems suggests that all systems at a given point in time are either: frozen–unfrozen–refrozen. I believe that our society, which was frozen when I was born, is now in an unfrozen state, and if maintained as an open system, will one day refreeze in a higher, more harmonious, more functional state.
As part of my past, and the past of all the current middle-age White guys back during the frozen time, there were very strict quotas, a very aggressive affirmative action program. One hundred percent of good jobs went to White male Protestants, preferably tall—no African Americans, no women, no Jews, no Catholics. There was very little competition for those jobs, as you might imagine.
I have to laugh when I hear my peers speak of the harm that will be done to people of color or women if affirmative action or quota programs are implemented. They do not seem to feel that the programs victimize them.
We currently seem to be in an unfrozen, transition period lasting several decades. This period is characterized by a struggle between diversity versus privilege, greed versus compassion, “greed is good” versus “simplicity.” The future of our society will be determined by which choice we make. To choose greed will lead to our destruction… to choose compassion will lead to a prolonged period of peace and prosperity.
People who care for people with mental disabilities are teachers of those in our society who choose compassion. From them (from you), we learn to live with the generous choice.
Racism is perhaps the most pernicious expression of choosing greed over compassion. I use the word to refer to race-based policies (e.g., profiling or making assumptions about behavior based on race). In our society racism did not occur naturally but was manufactured by wealthy plantation owners to split people of color and women from together demanding a fair portion of the products of their labors. Racism inherently divides us from one another. Racism inherently cheats one group out of its fair share of the society's wealth
Cultural competence is the ability to function effectively and to appreciate the gifts of those who look different, who were raised differently than we were. Cultural competence is the skill that enables us to embrace diversity. The ability to embrace diversity is necessary to experience compassion. Compassion stamps out racism. It will be interesting to see how we, how my children choose.
Author: Robin Edge, MS, National Director, Workplace Initiatives for the United Negro College Fund. Requests for reprints should be sent to 9819 Bridle Ridge Ct., Vienna, VA 22181. (Robin.Edge@uncf.org)