On this Thanksgiving morning, on a day when Americans have a special opportunity to be grateful for what they have, I am asking myself a question: Should I be grateful that I’m white? Mussar teaches that we should be grateful for the good, the bad, and those things we take for granted. It is in the latter category that my question falls. There is just one problem: I don’t think of myself as white. I think of myself as Jewish. If you look at my picture with Snoopy, with my Giants World Series Champions shirt (the third in five years) my skin tone looks white enough.
You might wonder why I don’t think if myself as white, even though my skin tone is light. The reason is that I’ve on occasion been the victim of anti-semitism, and I figure that anyone who hates or discriminates against blacks or other minorities would also hate me. While I still think that is true, I also think I am underestimating the impact of my skin color.
I started asking myself the question after getting up and reading the Huff post story about the Chicago police officer who shot Laquan McDonald 16 Times as he was walking away from the police. The officer, Jason Van Dyke was charged with murder one year later, only after the courts ordered the release of a dash-cam video showing the shooting. Van Dyke has never been disciplined for excessive use of force, despite at least 20 complaints against him. Want to get depressed or outraged to start your holiday? Read this story about how bad the racism problem is at the Chicago PD. The cover up stinks, all the way up to Mayer Rahm Emmanuel. Officers clearly lied in their official statements, and for a year the city refused to release the video, saying it would impede an investigation or some such thing.
So getting back to my question, maybe I should absolutely be grateful that my skin is white. It kind of makes me feel sick to write that, because it means that I am admitting that the color of my skin gives me advantages. It is an uncomfortable feeling, but it is undoubtedly true. The chances that I would be stopped, harassed, or shot by the police are vastly lower because of my skin color. And that reveals what I am really grateful for: I I am grateful that today I live in a country where the police are not a danger to me because of my religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. To be grateful for my skin color per se would reinforce a racial identity that would leave me vulnerable to stereotypes, and to my own hidden bias.
You don’t need to be a member of the Nazi party or the KKK to have a ethnic, religious, or gender bias. Hidden bias is increasingly well understood by psychologists, and it scares the crap out of me to think that I could have some program running in the background that impacts my behavior. Well news to you Greg, you do have a subconscious that impacts your behavior, and not all of it is pretty. You know from Mussar that we have an inner conflict between the Good and Evil Inclinations. (I’ll say more about them in a future post. You can read more about the inclinations here for now. ) After I submit my book, I’ll take Project Implicit’s Hidden Bias Test, and try to learn more about my own biased attitudes.
Enough – in spite of these darker musings, I am so grateful for many things in my life. I am grateful for my family, friends, and to my readers. The road to self discovery also means allowing time to enjoy the good things, and having a weekend with family is oh so special.
What are you grateful for?