The death of George Floyd has prompted much reflection for me.
Idaho has an interesting history of racial issues. In this state, I suppose it started with restricting Native Americans to reservations. We then moved on to the poor treatment of the Chinese who came to the mining communities of northern Idaho. Then came the seasonal migrant workers who came to harvest our agricultural products. Of course, we cannot forget the white supremacist Richard Butler. Sadly, there are many more I could identify. And while we may have made progress in Idaho, we still have a lot of work to do.
I believe a key in understanding some of these prejudices lies in our willingness to be honest with ourselves. I know why a faction of these prejudices exist and can, on some level, understand and maybe agree.
In our efforts to be fair to all, as a government, we have tried to create level playing fields for everyone. Instead, we have elevated some poor choices in the place of the best, in the name of fairness. Those choices created anger and resentment with those who have worked hard, only to be denied because they weren’t the right color.
It has created situations that felt threatening to others. Unfortunately, in advancing one group of people who were treated unjustly for generations for what could be good for our society, we have been unjust to others. People wonder how we got to such an uncivil place in our society and I’m telling you: It was one unfair act at a time — lifting one while putting down another.
It is part of the equation and it can’t be ignored if real understanding is to be found. Somehow, we must find a way to elevate with justice and equality for all.
Last summer, I joined some friends in Boise from my Up with People cast as we supported the daughter of one of our own as she performed in the traveling show “Le Misérables.” The cast I traveled with was about 110 people in size, representing 37 states and 17 countries. Traveling with these people for a year taught me a lot about myself and others.
We talked late into the night and as the evening progressed, (and the wine flowed) the conversation turned very serious, at which time my friend Patricia, a black woman from Colorado, asked the group this question: “Do you ever think about white privilege?”
Several spoke up almost immediately that they had. They were white people who lived in large metropolitan areas. I realized that while I had heard the term. I had never really thought about it.
I believe we who live in rural America live in a eutopia of sorts. We have our problems, but we are so seldom confronted with real prejudice in the ugly ways we have just seen it played out on national news that we think it doesn’t exist here.
I must share a conversation from that evening. It comes from my amazing friend, Norm, as he kindly tried to help me understand the plight of the black man from his perspective.
Norm is almost 7 feet tall. He sings like Stevie Wonder and his smile can light up a room. He is kind and loving and has been a music minister most of his adult life, also working at a men’s shelter in Minneapolis.
This strong, confident man told me that every day, when he leaves the sanctuary of his home or church, he must mentally arm himself for battle.
He is careful not to draw attention to himself, not make eye contact with white men or women who are alone and who could feel threatened by his size and color. If confronted by a policeman, he must behave in a subservient manner, always being polite and responsive.
He must do this to survive because he has seen misunderstood, outgoing behavior result in unjust treatment and death. He knows too many black men who have died or are in jail for reasons a white man would find outrageous.
The thought of my friend dealing with this on a daily basis moves me to tears every time I think of it and strikes fear in my heart for him as I think he could be the next George Floyd.
The stories from Norm and Patricia gave me much to think about — things I take for granted as a white woman, as a “privileged white woman.”
While I might have thought it was important for them to understand why I don’t think about white privilege, it was really more important for me to understand that I live “white privilege” without even realizing it while my friends live in fear every day.
After watching the officer in Minneapolis suffocate George Floyd for no reason, I had to ask myself the question: What can I do to stop this?
I don’t know the answer yet, but I will continue to seek an answer. It’s a responsibility we all have to one another. We must do our best to find the answers.
Agidius represented Latah and Benewah counties in the Idaho House. She lives in Moscow.