Dear White People

“I simply believe that no matter how hard I work at not being racist, I still am.”  Stephanie Wildman

I’m standing on the curb
Waiting for the Bolt Bus back to Seattle
When he staggers down the street
The bent over black man
Sunken cheeks, fingering coins
Do you have a dollar?  I need a dollar…

I’m reading “Dear White America” for my
Allies for Change class – the assignment due tomorrow
As the man comes closer
Do you have…?  

The men beside me reply as he goes by…

I just want him to go away
Like I wanted the homeless addicted black woman
Last month to go away when I stood here
In the drizzling rain to go away and leave me alone
I don’t want to talk to him, ask his name
I want to be left alone to finish my reading assignment

No thank you.. I mutter

What?  “No thank you?”

Later the young white kid
Asks the driver how much it is for the bus
You have to pay with cash she says
He looks around wide-eyed like where’s the cash machine?

I don’t think, I react
Here – how much do you need? I ask
Hand him a 20
No way man, really?
Sure, no problem
How much is the bus? he asks
You don’t happen to have…
– I hand him a 5
Peter I say, extending my hand

Thank you for helping him out sir the driver says as I climb on the bus
No problem, I say.  If only we all would help each other out
In times like this.

On the bus, I finish the article,
“I’m asking you to enter into battle with your whole self.
I’m asking that you open yourself up, to admit to
The racist person that is inside you.”*

Peter Ilgenfritz
May 10, 2018

*”Dear White America” by George Yancy, professor of philosophy at Emory University, New York Times Opinion Pages, December 24, 2015

See also, “Should I Give Up on White People?” by George Yancy, The New York Times, April 16, 2018

6 thoughts on “Dear White People”

  1. Wow, Peter. Good on you for writing such an honest piece. It speaks to so many of us who would like to think we aren’t racist and you give us permission to acknowledge that and courage to DO something about it.


  2. Isn’t it also an issue about class? I’d have said no to the white guy asking for a dollar out on the street. So what does that say about us?


  3. Reading your column and the comments so far, I think the good thing is that we are talking and asking questions. There is no one answer, but silence is stifling.


  4. I find that I will give a “dollar” to someone on a sidewalk, but when driving in my car I rarely stop. What is that? The close encounter is too close?


  5. Peter – I left Florida after 4 years, including one in which I was clinically depressed, to escape the daily “in my face” racism. But I can never escape it whether in Florida or Seattle, it is just more subtle here, and perhaps more insidious.

    I’m constantly examining my moments of discomfort when meeting “the other,” whether it is someone who is homeless or who is a person of color or both. Where do those knee jerk reactions come from? Why is there fear? What do I need to do to change and to open my heart in every way? There is so much to be done and I know that starts with me. Thanks for inviting us to this place of discussion.


  6. Last week, I was shopping at Safeway. There were a lot of school kids there, perhaps school had just let out. A large group of black boys were gathered near the checkout area. Suddenly, a black woman waved one of them over to her. When the young man approached her, she held out a $20 bill, giving it to him. He and his friends looked startled, and then broadly smiled, and thanked her. Then she handed out a few more twenties to some of the others. It all happened so fast. It felt good to see. Next time, it would be tempting to follow her example.


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