“When You’re the Only White Person in the Room”

There’s a very fine new article posted at CNN.com this morning, called “When You’re the Only White Person in the Room.” Written by John Blake, it’s about the experiences of white people who have spent significant time as the minority race among mostly black people — what it felt like, what they learned. I read the first paragraph as I was flipping quickly through my daily routine of websites with my morning tea in front of me, intending just to do a quick scan, and then found I had to keep on going. Every time I figured I’d gone far enough, time to click elsewhere, another insightful paragraph kept my attention.

What a complicated business is race and striving to live with justice and compassion — at least, I suppose, to this Catholic white guy who grew up in rural western Pennsylvania and now lives in rural central Minnesota. That background and present experience set the stage for a pang of anxiety and guilt when I read this in Blake’s article:

The Public Religion Research Institute recently caused a stir when it released a poll that said three-quarters of white Americans have no nonwhite friends. Some commentators invoked the survey to explain why some whites seem clueless about racial sensitivities: They know no people of color to give them a different perspective.

Easy to comfort myself by saying race doesn’t matter to me, I can treat a black person the same as I treat a white person, think of her and respect him the same as I think of and respect all the white people who fill my life and consciousness. And then comes this passage from Blake about “declar[ing] as a white person that you don’t see race”:

DeYoung says that’s actually a subtle way of insulting people of color.

“It diminishes people to not see their race and their culture,” says DeYoung, who wrote a memoir about his racial journey entitled “Homecoming: A White Man’s Journey through Harlem to Jerusalem.”

“The reality is that race affects people’s lives, and if you can’t see race, you can’t see the life they’ve lived.”

Plenty more there to think through. Thanks to John Blake for the good read.


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