The other day my teenager came home and told me about a discussion at school that had disappointed him. He said they had been talking about white privilege, and he wished people wouldn’t talk about it that way. My son said that the whole conversation would have been less confrontational if people talked about the many privileges there are, white privilege being one.
That’s my boy, and I’m so proud!
I have always reminded my boys that, no matter how broke we are in a given moment, we still have it so much better than countless others. Among the poor, we had privilege. Every Christmas eve, we’d read a stunning picture book called “December” about a homeless mom and son and an angel to remind ourselves to count each other as our greatest blessings.
I’ve also always reminded my boys that even though we have some baggage from our ethnicity, we are very privileged as compared to other non-white families in predominantly white settings. Most of the time, for most of my life in Maine — the idea of race as an issue never enters my head, unless I see a good opening for a joke, of course.
The rest of the time, though, I don’t think about the issue of race or my race much at all, which is as close as I can imagine to experiencing a sort of white privilege. I don’t know if that makes sense at all, and I don’t know if that’s offensive to anyone of any color — I’m only trying to express a thought.
Like the other night — I was in a roomful of about a dozen or so people, three of whom I knew well and was comfortable with. In the middle of the conversation, I saw an opening for a quick race joke, the norm-twisting kind I’m known to say. So I said it.
Had I thought about it, I would have never said something quite that race-oriented in front of strangers, but I’m so at ease at as a non-white in Maine. I let my race guard down — until a moment like that when I realize strangers might not know how to interpret my humor. I like to be equal opportunity when it comes to poking at norms.
So I panicked for a second as the end of the quip slipped off my tongue. Thankfully everyone burst out laughing, which tends to be a typical outcome after one of my off-color jokes here in Maine. I guess that means I am afforded a race humor-type privilege, too.
A couple days later, I recounted my almost-bad joke to a friend who is not white, nor is he from Maine originally. He and his family live in a very rural setting, and I asked him once if he had adjusted to being a Mainer. He told me that he thinks he’s always been one — it’s just that he didn’t realize it until he got here.
This friend answered my tale with similar tale, and he said that those are the moments “we forget.” I was so relieved to hear him say that — I thought my friend Cobby and I were the only ones to have that experience here.
In case that doesn’t make sense to all readers, by forgetting, we mean that it is possible in Maine to forget that race is an issue, which is not the case in other places. It’s amazingly easy for me, as a nonwhite person, to entirely forget to take race into consideration when deciding how to act.
That’s a pretty special privilege that speaks volumes about all the Mainers who make it possible for me to feel that way.
Now, I’m not trying to be Polly-Annish or suggest that Maine is free from all racial discontent or that I can speak for the experiences of every non-white person in Maine. However, in honor of the holiday at hand, I wanted to express my gratitude to all my Maine friends and to all the Mainers I’ve encountered throughout my life for providing me with my feeling of privilege when it comes to being myself and raising my boys here.
It’s a Maine-made thing, and I am grateful.
Happy Dr. King’s Birthday and Happy Dr. King Day to all!