Being White and Being Myself

Years ago, I was on a bike ride with a friend of mine, Jeff. He recounted a funny story back when he moved to NC. A certified Northernite, he had moved to Charlotte having lived his whole life in the Northeast. He “threw baggage” for US Airways.  

As I recall his story went something like this:

“When I moved here, everybody was so nice; but there was one thing I just couldn’t figure out. Every time I assisted someone they would follow up my helpful act with the words, “Pretty Shaded.” I didn’t know what that meant, and being new and just trying to fit in, I started saying it too. Someone would do something nice for me like hold open a door, I would automatically follow-up their kind act with “Pretty Shaded.”

Finally, after half a year or so, one of the guys stopped me and said, “Jeff, what are you saying? What the hell does ‘Pretty Shaded’ mean?”

I laughed and said, “I don’t know. I was just saying what you did. Everyone here says ‘Pretty Shaded.’

After sifting through the how’s and when’s of the strange words, the two of us figured out. The words I had heard as ‘Pretty Shaded’ were ‘Appreciate it’…just said with a Southern accent.”

Something akin to this happened to me not too long ago. I was speaking to about forty “Leadership Charlotte” alumni about my trip last summer. 

 As some of you may recall, last summer, I rented a Mustang Convertible, donned a pair of Red Cowboy Boots and headed west and back to go deep into the question, “Why is America so polarized?” After having served two years on a commission in our nation’s capital, tasked with “fixing” the uncivil dialogue happening on “the Hill” I was still highly frustrated by what seemed to be the “us versus them” happening in all facets of American Life. So what better way to get to the bottom of it, then to go to the American People…you, me…and ask us…”what do YOU think is going on with all the polarizing dialogue?”

After I shared my story and the many beautiful encounters I had experienced with literally hundreds of people from all facets of American Life, I asked the Leadership Charlotte audience, “Does anyone have any first impressions, thoughts, takeaways from what I’ve just shared.”

As I recall, someone said, “Inspirational.” I think someone else might have said, “Courageous.” And then…HE raised his hand. I nodded to him. “Yes?”

“White Privilege,” he said.  

Like knife to gut, I felt myself react. It felt like my insides died a little bit. I felt diminished. Small. Scared even.
The discomfort in the room was palpable. Pins and needles. Awkward. Scary.  

I looked at him…this younger-than-me African American man with tender eyes and a very, very brave heart.  

“That hurt,” I said out loud. “I don’t know why, but that hurt.”

 “I don’t mean to hurt you; but you asked my first impression and my first impression is white privilege.”

We sat there looking at each other for what felt like an eternity. My guess is, though, it was probably only a minute or so.  

And then I asked, “Why does this hurt so much?”

Another pause, and I said, “I think it’s this hurt that stops people from talking to each other.”

His gaze was strong, clear and very honest. As I recall, he tried explaining a little bit what he meant by White Privilege; but the truth is, I was dealing with where to go from here. It was like being caught naked in front of a room full of people…What do I do? Where do we go? How do I move forward? I’m so embarrassed, ashamed, unsure of myself.

“Will you go to lunch with me?” I asked. “I need to understand why this hurts, what’s going on here.” I motioned toward my heart. “I think what’s going on in here, is what’s going on everywhere.”

After my presentation, he handed me his card. Patricke Ward works for an insurance company and is President of one of the largest Black Fraternities in the nation.  

A couple of weeks later, Patricke and I went to lunch. We talked for an hour or more about our lives…as in really talked. Not about what we do, but what we feel, see, believe…what matters to us. Somewhere at the beginning of all that, I asked him pointblank, “What do you mean by White Privilege. I don’t really understand what those words mean, I just know that I had a gut-wrenching knee jerk reaction to them.”

“Imagine if someone like me,” he said, “tried to do what you did last summer. How many people would have talked so openly to me? Molly, you are the most non-threatening person, both in spirit but also in form. My experience on a trip such as yours would have been different, even if my intention had been the same, simply because of how I show up in the world.”

After some more dialogue on the topic, I said, “I get it, now. I am a small, white, blonde 50-something female. Who’s going to be afraid of me?”  
Pretty Shaded. Appreciate it. White Privilege. 

I had been afraid of the words…had disdain for them actually because I hadn’t understood them. 

Patricke has become one of my best friends. We meet regularly for lunch. We talk from the deep places that scare us, inspire us, mean something. We met this past week for lunch as a matter of fact. And as I write about him now, I can feel myself well up. “Keep doing what you are doing,” he says. “You can reach people I can’t.” 
I love this man. I love the fact that he lets me be me fully. When I am with Patricke, I feel safe to be myself…and I wonder if that’s what we all want anyway.  

I prettyshade this man. 

 

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3 Responses to Being White and Being Myself

  1. Pingback: Shake and Get Over It | Being Here

  2. Susan says:

    I am a white women , your age but …. Not blond , not southern and not Christian. Thank you Patricke – very few will understand. Starting the conversation is huge. Pretty shaded.

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