White Girl Syndrome

A Facebook post from a friend of mine this morning:

For my white friends and family. This was written by a local woman here, and I think she’s spot on, and I think we need to realize both this AND our privilege.”This, everything here on this continent, your life here, has only been made possible by genocide and slavery. Everything you have is built on oppressing brown and black people. All white people benefit from systemic racism. You have a privilege of being able to call police and not worry for a second that you could be killed by them. Your world is founded through bloodshed, annihilation, savagery, genocide, millions of men, women, children, and elders killed for your existence to be.”

For years I have prided myself on being the daughter of a father who fought hard for racial equality in Philadelphia. A community organizer, he headed a settlement house in our historically integrated blue collar neighborhood where everyone was united by the effects of economic depression when the local mills closed. He was on the city’s Civil Rights Commission that explored the city’s policies, including the police at a time when its chief was a universally known hard-line racist. My dad was the prime force for integration in our neighborhood and, as result, our family received enough threats that a police car sat in front of our house.

That a police car was protecting our family and not so much the black family who merely wanted to buy a house in a good neighborhood should be fiercely noted.

And yet, I carry the enormous guilt of a casual racism my upbringing did little to stem. It takes the form of offhanded things I’ve said to good friends and co-workers that, at the time, we laughed off as “white girl” syndrome. It means that even good white people like me have an ingrained bias instilled in them. It underscores the fact that their white friends are capable of visiting upon them insensitive and hurtful injuries, the kind that they experience as a matter of course every single day.

It’s simplistic, probably another aspect of my white girl syndrome, to see what is happening across our country as a necessary lancing of aged wounds. In recent years, we’ve seen such volatile unrest after every horribly unjust killings but this time feels different. There is a wide diversity of people joining in protests, more understanding of the causes, more powerful calls for a final reckoning.

Maybe its all heightened by our pent-up frustration at the pandemic lock down and our perverse political climate. I don’t really know. I’m not good at writing social commentary and realize this post may be considered imprudent, no doubt part of my privileged white girl syndrome. As always, I wish my dad was around to help me find a through line.

The only thing I know for certain is, this time, I have a responsibility to own up to the part I play in our racial history. It’s what has to happen.

2 thoughts on “White Girl Syndrome

  1. I remember the calls warning us of retribution and of burning a cross on our lawn, the foulest of language. A rock in the window. Being on that commission, plus the Cardinal’s Commission on Human Rights, got him in partnership with the Kennedy’s and other good people. That small handful of whites were told they would pay a price. Angry threats. Busing and housing were key issues in the Sixties. He was the only white man allowed to get a drink in the African American social clubs, which, if you recall, every ethnic group had at least one in second-generation immigrant-working class milltown of Manayunk. They pushed through it and got reforms.

    1. I don’t remember rock/cross but still remember the voice and the first time I heard graphic language. Also the social club…..still, the fight even in ourselves, is eternal. In so many ways those were simplier times. I wish I lived up to the man better.