“I don’t know, Tiffiney, I just don’t see it,” I said after Tiffiney, my African American classmate, brought up the subject of racism in America.  I went on, “I just feel like racism is a thing of the past, I mean, we elected an African American president, after all.  I just feel like we’re beating a dead horse and keep bringing something up that doesn’t exist anymore.”

Tiffany’s demeanor changed as she noticeably shutdown and slumped down in her chair.

The professor took a deep breath, sensing the tension in the room, “I think it’s time we take a break.”

That was the dumbest thing I have ever said,


because I was dead wrong.


In a pivotal essay in the 80’s, Peggy McIntosh wrote,  “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”[1]

You see, I too was unaware of the invisible systemic issues that exist in America today, mainly white privilege.

Definition:  white privilegea social relation A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.

Then I went through a section on Racial Reconciliation in my Theology class at Northern Seminary…and everything I ever believed about the non-existence of racism in American was blown into shreds in a matter of weeks.  Suddenly, I became aware of the devastating historical implications of whiteness in America.   I listened to painful stories from my African American classmates who have seen the impact of white privilege in America.  I heard stories of racial profiling in the city of Chicago, stories of my classmates being aware of their race on a daily basis, and stories of classmates who were often in fear of being harassed.  For my whole life I had a “boot strap philosophy,” I believed that if someone worked hard enough in the United States they could have a fair advantage as everyone else.

That day, as I listened to my classmates pour their hearts out, I could bear it no more.

Tiffiney, who I had so rudely written off just two years before sat in the same classroom as I did.

I quickly raised my hand with tears rolling down my face, “Excuse me, could I just share something?”  The entire class turned to see my distraught face.  “Two years ago I so wrongly wrote Tiffiney off in the middle of class and told her that ‘I just didn’t see racism.’  Tiffiney, I need to ask for your forgiveness.  I am sorry, I could not have been more wrong.”

I felt naked.  I felt sick.  I hated the words I had said just two years ago.

Tiffiney got up from her chair, walked across the room toward me, pulled me from my chair and just embraced me.   Together we wept.

I still feel like I have barely touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to white privilege in America.  I am still so painfully unaware of way too much and have a lot to learn and teach my white friends.

But this I do know: Racism is real,  whiteness is real, and that was the dumbest thing I ever did say just two years ago.








[1] White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh


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