I’m inspired by Diane Brandsma of the Portland Pearl Rotary Club. As fellow Rotarians we have a fair amount in common. We are both professional leaders in the non-profit world. Diane is a bit farther along in her career, and I have gone further afield in my journeys, but there are clear commonalities. She is one of my many, many mentors and colleagues within the club.
Diane elevated herself in making a statement about white privilege today. I applaud her.
At the Portland Pearl Rotary we have a segment of our meetings dedicated to learning about fellow members. They can share about anything they wish to. It can be professional, personal, funny, or poignant. Today’s was the later. Diane noted that the last time she shared with the club was shortly after her father’s death, which happened to coincide with the death of our father Wally. She spoke then of the ten lessons she learned from her dad. I’d love to get a copy of that list or share it with the club.
Diane spoke of what hasn’t been voiced nearly enough. She talked about what white privilege meant in her life and why we should be taking a stand to address such social justice issues in our club and beyond. To create ripples. I won’t try to share her comments, but I will instead share what 10 things remind me of my white privilege.
My white privilege means:
- Being born into a lily white Oregon and really not overly concerning myself about race and its impacts as a child.
- Being born into a loving and stable family and knowing early on that I had it better than even my own siblings. I was introduced to diversity in my own family, with three adopted siblings. I didn’t have to personally deal with incest, hunger, neglect, or growing up as a brown skinned white child, but I vicariously experienced and learned from what it means not to have to deal with setbacks that might hold me back. This can’t be all be attributed to race, as two of my adopted siblings are white, but I felt the advantages of having a supportive family from the beginning. I knew I had it better than many people in the world.
- Being raised off-grid on a commune until we were nearly five years old and having the advantage of play, discovery, and a healthy lifestyle. We ate the way that people should it. With whole foods that we mostly grew ourselves. Being white means I have had access to healthy fruits and vegetables my entire life. Having worked for years on developing programs to prevent malnutrition in children, this advantage means more than you think.
- Being educated in small and positive environments that met my creative and intellectual needs. Being later privileged to visit schools around the world that do not have the amenities I took for granted. In a world where toilets, water, and books are luxuries. Being white implies authority and potential without any other merits in mind.
- Being able to pull it off to be both a Rotary Exchange Student and then attend Lewis & Clark College when I didn’t really have the means to do so. Being offered jobs and opportunities that I might not have without my whiteness benefiting me. Ironically, being white probably afforded me advantages that got me hired at the African American Health Coalition, beating out over 200 candidates that were likely more diverse than I. Thankfully this led me to the fabulous Lou Radja, so I am certainly not complaining. He knows all about privilege and its various nuances.
- Being able to travel and live, by choice, all over the world. And get paid well for it at that. Choosing to go to some of the roughest places on earth and living to tell about it. Taking risks where someone who wasn’t white might not be so lucky to survive, let alone thrive. What I haven’t voiced is that being white means having some faith that if the bottom drops out, that being white might work out to my advantage. This means trying very hard not to be seen as a white savior of any kind, but anyone who had traveled the world with white privilege knows that this can be harder to do than it seems. There is a lot of cultural and historical baggage that comes with being white that is hard to shed even if you want to.
- Being the only white woman for miles and using that to my advantage. Being elevated in status above being a woman. Being white cancelled out the female aspect. It is hard to explain in any other way than being a different gender and status of sorts. Being a white woman in the world definitely has its privileges. I’ve also often been the only young white woman in a career of old white guys (this wasn’t always a privilege, but it did mean I had access to a field that was previously closed to people like me).
- Being well aware that I have access and resources to an entire lifestyle that is not available to the people I have met all around the world. Knowing that my niece Makenna immediately had it infinitely better than the malnourished children I met in Eastern DR Congo just after she was born. Knowing that my own son Clark already has more white privilege that I will ever know myself. It also means being aware of things and considering how best to provide well rounded opportunities that make Clark the global ambassador that I see him to be.
- Being given credit that has enabled me to leverage resources that I otherwise would not have had access to.It means that I can walk into a dealership and buy a car with no money down and no questions asked. Not being pulled over by a cop until this year, and getting out of the ticket as well. Being able to go from growing up near the US poverty line to now having a net worth of over $1M and numerous properties and assets. Notably, all of my homes (outside of our generally white Olivia Beach community – which was inherited with wealth that my grandparents acquired after the great depression and moved out to Oregon from Chicago), are in areas that have traditionally been black. I am the gentrification that I simultaneously both don’t want (to displace people who have traditionally lived in these areas) and want (to be a part of these communities and to help improve them for all). In DC this also meant I was an urban pioneer of sorts. Our first place in DC was a block from Logan City, which was well known as a prostitution mecca for the East Coast. This included flipping a multi-unit townhouse at NE 5th & O. We did it with a lot of sweat equity and came out on top on, and managed to help improve a block that was pretty rough. We walked the Shaw neighborhood of DC nightly, and honestly I think I felt safer walking as a savvy white woman. We just aren’t worth the hassle; as I have been told by a Kenyan taxi driver. In Portland this meant that I was able to buy in to a tight Portland market just before it spiked even further and displaced out even people from within the Portland market (white or otherwise) who didn’t have the same real estate skills that I had acquired over the years of doing numerous deals. I also consciously chose the NE King area of Portland, with more diversity than you can find in most of Oregon, because I enjoy being a part of a community that doesn’t all just look like me. All this leads to having a several homes that I rent out on Airbnb to enable me to continue to sustain my lifestyle and build several businesses while raising Clark. It puts me where I am today. It puts me at a clear advantage.
- Being able to choose what I do what my life and having the great pleasure of spending my time doing good in the world being able to support incredible initiatives like InStove.org and Rotary International, and then sharing about it with the world. I have many choices and I have a voice that can be heard.
It is notably hard to decipher aspects of where white privilege play into one’s life, since it affects the underlying fabric of the advantages that one has enjoyed by being white. Being a global citizen of sorts, it is already hard for me to separate out my white privilege from my American privilege. They are distinct though. Being both white and American is a very privileged place to be.
While clearly I have many areas to point to where I may have experienced an advantage because of my race, I also recognize that my success has been attributed to a lot of hard work and passion to do good in my life. But I also feel it is important to recognize where privilege exists in our society that arguable needs to shift over time.
I am very privileged, and well aware that my so-called luck hasn’t just been made possible by all my hard work. I will continue to work to make sure that I lead my life without the blissful oblivion that can accompany white privilege. Thank you, Diane.
P.S. Check out this great piece on The Racist History of Portland, the Whitest City in America