Learning the Reality of Racism

Author Craig S. Keener discusses learning about White priviledge in the Huffington Post

Sometimes white people think that racism is a dead issue, because they do not experience it. Yet it is not wise to judge other people’s experience based on our non-experience.

In 1991, I converted to the Black Church. Unlike my earlier conversion from atheism, it wasn’t a religious conversion so much as a social conversion. I had been through the most difficult time in my life, and I found that the Black Church knew how to deal with pain. In fact, they had centuries of experience dealing with it.

I also had begun feeling deceived by my own culture. I thought the civil rights movement had mostly ended any serious problems regarding race, except for a few crazy white supremacists here and there. But when I began living in an African-American neighborhood, I would listen as friends and neighbors talked about a world unfamiliar to me. And I was horrified as some of the students at the university I was attending chatted about their almost daily experiences of racism. People had said or done things to them that I didn’t think happened any more, simply because they didn’t happen to me.

One day, after hearing my friends recount multiple racist encounters, I confidentially asked one of the students, Arthur, about it after the others left. Recognizing that I had lived a sheltered life, he simply recounted the story of his first English course at the university. He was the only African-American student in the class, and the teacher called him aside after the first day of class. “You need to drop this course,” she advised, “because you are not going to pass it. And if you tell anyone about this conversation, it will be your word against mine.” Arthur chose to stay in the class and, undoubtedly to the teacher’s surprise, he earned an A. I was horrified by the incident he recounted. “That doesn’t happen often, does it?” I inquired. He eyed me sympathetically, recognizing that I didn’t get it yet.

Read more of his stoty here.