SAMMY RANGEL RECENTLY spoke to a Ripon College audience: “If you are white and you believe there is some privilege allotted to you solely based on that, we don’t want you to feel ashamed ...” 										  Tim Lyke photo
SAMMY RANGEL RECENTLY spoke to a Ripon College audience: “If you are white and you believe there is some privilege allotted to you solely based on that, we don’t want you to feel ashamed ...” Tim Lyke photo

     Call me late to the party, but I used to be a “white privilege” denier.

     I disdained the notion that upon my birth and through no fault of my own, I stood guilty for the crime of being Caucasian.

     No one told my parents they were “privileged” when they fashioned a crib for their firstborn out of a dresser drawer [or lived] in a Scott Street house where my brother and I slept in the attic ... Nor did I consider myself privileged when roommates in my first basement apartment in south Minneapolis were a buddy and a family of mice who took shortcuts across our floor mattresses in a dwelling where a man had been murdered on the front stoop the week before we moved in.

      And yes (cue the sad cello music), we walked to work, uphill both ways. In the snow. Barefoot.

     I grew up in Ripon, taking for granted its safety, schools and caring community of adults. My advantages expanded with college, career, family — I had reached the pinnacle of privilege, and this white boy never gave it a whit of consideration.

     While attending Ripon High School, my daughters attended white privilege conferences in Madison (more Bolsheviks per capita than any other Wisconsin city), returning home to give my wife and me souvenirs: a dollop of white guilt for each of us.

     Our response to them was muted, but quietly to each other we wondered why we had to shoulder the collective guilt of those who owned slaves, wore white hoods, flew Confederate flags and in other ways demeaned others based on their skin color.

     Several years later, black friends who live in the Ripon area have shared with me ... daily indignities [that] mask an underlying racism made manifest in less explicit but very real indifference if not hostility toward “the other.” ...

     That most of us don’t have to endure the “shallow understanding” on a daily basis suggests we drew the long straws, but gives us the burden — nay, privilege — of making an extra effort to empathize with those who look different than us.

     A speech by Ripon College’s recent MLK Week keynoter Sammy Rangel — reported on page 10 of this week’s Commonwealth — offered a constructive take on white privilege.

     Rangel quoted a minority friend who said: “If you are white and you believe there is some privilege allotted to you solely based on that, we don’t want you to feel ashamed, condemned or that we’re singling you out. But if you could leverage that to lend itself to our cause, we would welcome that.”

     That’s not seeking guilt but it’s offering power: a privilege that extends from white privilege.
                                                               — Tim Lyke

     To read the entire publisher’s note, see the Feb. 8, 2018 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.