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White Privilege Seminar Explores Race

Police supporters Cindy and Jeff Robinson listen as a group of Ferguson protesters talk about what it's like to be black in America. Cindy Robinson said they wanted to talk because everyone was yelling and communication has to start somewhere.
Camille Phillips | St.Louis Public Radio

Conversations about race shouldn’t be uncomfortable. It should be like falling in love, said Amy Hunter, director of racial justice at the YWCA of Metro St. Louis.

“I’ve heard a lot of white people say ‘I’m going to have to move out of my comfort zone to get more learned about this.’ This is more like falling in love,” Hunter told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Thursday. “If you’ve ever been in love, we should be running to each other to do this. This is a good thing. This is a positive thing. This is not something that’s painful or hurtful.”

Hunter and Ladue Horton Watkins High School social studies teacher Rob Good will speak about white privilege in a Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice program tonight.

White privilege, a phrase coined in the 1960s, refers to societal privileges that benefit white people. Hunter used flesh-colored Band-Aids as an example: No one did anything to “earn” the flesh-tone color, but they match white skin tones better than black skin tones.

“Privilege is not distributed evenly because we are more than just our racial identity,” said Mary Ferguson, CEO of Talking Stix and a volunteer for the YWCA’s “Witnessing Whiteness” program. “We have a class background and we have our gender and we have our ability status and all those things. Privilege is not distributed evenly among white people. Often one of the reactions to understanding the effects of privilege is people saying ‘But I worked hard.’ I like to emphasize I understand that, and I know in my own family history my parents worked very hard, but we also had advantages — it’s like the wind was always blowing in our direction. The discussion of privilege has to be more nuanced.”

Addressing privilege won’t happen overnight, Hunter said, and will require a strategic approach.

“We talk about diversity and racism as if we hope it gets better, instead of actually creating strategies to change and implement laws and policies,” she said.

There’s also an inability to imagine a world without racism or privilege, she said.

“I can actually imagine St. Louis not racially profiling anymore people, whether it’s our criminal justice system or our school systems or our shopping malls. I can actually imagine people wanting to live here because we’re so wonderful and welcome and we’ve got this kinship thing going on that people from other cities say ‘Wow, when I went to St. Louis I was treated so well that I’d like to stay.’ ”

If privilege and racism are going to be addressed, everyone must be involved, Ferguson said.

“I grew up in the civil rights era, and what was called America’s race problem always focused on what was happening to people of color and left out the view of how the racist system limits — it benefits but also limits the lives of people who are white,” she said. “There’s a message for white people to learn about how racism actually hurts us. It separates us. It isolates us.”

To make changes in St. Louis and Ferguson, Hunter said people of all races and generations must work together.

“One of our tragedies has been that we’ve ignored the conversation of race. It is here. Ferguson is a wonderful example of how it does matter,” she said. “I actually think this is a pretty exciting time. It’s really great to have the people who’ve already done this, who’ve already been a part of change, mentoring the people who are now affecting the change. I think this is a great time in America. I think it’s a great time for Ferguson and what’s happening here.”

Related Event

White Privilege: Have We Learned Not to Look?

  • When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015
  • Where: Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road, St. Louis
  • More information

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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