Jean McAulay

I am a white woman in middle age (as long as I live to 110). I can go anywhere and no one ever seems to think I’m up to no good no matter what I’m doing.

This hit home last week when I returned to Atlanta, where I had lived for 10 years, to visit old friends. One of the very first friends I made there moved out of the country just two years into our friendship. I’ve missed her now for 10+ years so, when I heard she had moved back to the area, I started digging around to find her and reconnect.

I found an address online but no phone number, email or social media contacts. So, back in Atlanta on this visit, I headed out to the address to knock on her door.

Through the gates

I pulled up to the neighborhood to find a gated community, common in Atlanta’s affluent suburbs. I sat at the gate and weighed my options. None of which was that I had better leave before anyone got suspicious or scared.

Then the mail carrier pulled up. I asked if he could confirm that he delivered mail to the name of my friend. He provided a long explanation of why he couldn’t share that information and I quietly listened. Until he started yelling, “Go, why don’t you go!”

Turns out a resident had pulled up, activated the gate and it was now open before me. Is there any chance the white male carrier would have urged me to drive through if I were a young black man? I seriously doubt it. A black woman? I don’t know.

In I went. I found my friend’s address, parked and knocked on the door feeling well within my rights to do so. When no one answered, I walked next door and knocked. Seconds later it swung wide open and a broad-smiled young white woman answered with a big hello. She confirmed that my friend did live next door and suggested she was likely out walking her dog.

Just hanging out

I thanked her and went to wait in the car. Minutes later with my head buried in my laptop, there was a tap at the car window. The police telling me to move on? No. That nice young woman offering my friend’s new cell number so I could call her.

I had a conference call coming up in just minutes so I sat in the car with my ear buds in and my laptop open for the next 20 minutes while I completed the call and waited for my friend. Did I feel suspicious? Unsafe? Like neighbors were probably calling the police? No, no and no. I felt like there wasn’t a reason in the world for anyone in that neighborhood to be concerned about my presence. And they weren’t.

Because we were both enjoying the balmy waters of our pervasive white privilege.

Swimming in it

Despite 55 years of living as a left-leaning progressive in various states and cities across the U.S. from the Northeast to the Midwest, Southeast and now Texas (its own region), it has taken me until just about now to realize I have always been swimming in a sea of white privilege.

Thanks to books like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele and many others, I have finally started to get just the tiniest glimpse of the privilege and freedom afforded me by white skin.

But, more than anything, it has been the lived experience and relationship with the women of the Multicultural Women’s Book Group of Dallas who have opened my eyes. These smart, brave, kind, informative and patient (God, the patience!) strangers-become-friends have done even more than well-researched and written books to help me understand how different their daily experience in this country is than mine.  And how difficult their everyday journey continues to be. And, of course, the deep fears they hold for the black men in their lives.

I have absolutely no answers but I suspect that understanding the depth and scope of our white privilege is a critical first step for white people. And then to start speaking up and pointing out the racism that defines nearly every part of our shared existence. I don’t know where this is taking me, but I’m quite certain this tiny glimpse of understanding requires that I become a different person moving forward.

Thank you MWBG members for sharing your insights, your truth and your friendship. I hope to be deserving of it.