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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Maybe a benefit of an open mind is that it both lets in new thoughts but also lets some old thoughts spill out


This coming weekend, I am going camping with a bunch of Quakers – a couple hundred of them/us. Some fun, eh? It’s something I’ve been doing off, but mostly on, for close to 50 years, since it was held at Camp Hilltop in Downingtown, a camp than no longer exists except in our dulled, but fond, memories.
When I was a teenager and had to go to these camps, my friends Martin, Eric, Dennis, Chris and Brad, among others, made a fine art out of skipping the workshops and “fun” activities the parents had worked hard to organize to help teach us big issues about the world, probably involving lots of Peace, Love and Understanding. Our favorite trick was to walk in one side of the meeting hall, sign in, and then, while they were still signing kids in and getting organized, we would walk out the other side, at which point we would head for the ball fields or basketball court or just up to the woods for a while to lay low and talk about sports or girls, honing the fine art of exaggeration in both cases, no doubt.
But I digress…back 45+ years I guess. Fun while it lasted…both the digression and our times at Camp Hilltop, that is.
Anyway, that intro is to put in minor perspective, the irony that is the fact that this weekend when I attend the grandchild of Camp Hilltop, now held at a Brethren Camp out past Harrisburg, I will be hosting a workshop, not escaping from one.
The workshop I described in the brochure as:

2A “ Race Relations – Discussion to Action”

MAIN HALL, handicapped accessible

(Jamie McVickar, Downingtown)

We have been asked for decades to have a national discussion on race. This workshop will briefly be part of that, then we hope to spend a majority of our time developing ideas for specific actions we can take or lead others to get involved with. Please come ready with ideas, suggestions and an open mind, though not so open that things fall out.

My fear is that the discussion will take the form that every workshop on race issues has taken since I was in college, where a bunch of like-minded folks sit around wringing their hands over how terrible it all is, observing that It’s just terrible what those people have to go through every day, but what can we do?!

Two weekends ago, I attended a 4 hour session in West Chester, described as

Courageous Conversations: A Community's Effort to Understand and Overcome Implicit Bias

And it was courageous of them to put the program together but I was pretty disappointed in it. It consisted almost entirely of telling us things we already knew, primarily about the concept of White Privilege, a concept I see as real, but over-rated as a hindrance or benefit in any of our lives. I barely snuck it into my top 10 list of privileges when I was asked to make such a list at a similar event in Philadelphia month or so earlier.
Here was my quickly jotted list on a scrap of paper, with “privilege” being defined as a “right or unearned advantage” in no particular order:

 -         good health, despite needing to lose a pound or 30
  -        being born in the USA
  -        born to caring, loving parents who emphasized a good education
  -        an amazing, supportive, fun extended family
 -         relatively good finances, though I’d argue that’s probably earned, not unearned
 -         being raised a Quaker with good values
 -         an incredible wife and family of 7 or so, depending on one’s definition
 -         being born in the 20th, and now living in the 21st century
 -         a decent IQ (though I worked for many years with people in the double digits in their IQs and some of them seemed way happier than I'll ever be!)
 -         a particular skill set, or aptitude for numbers
 -         an ability for introspection and desire to work to be a better person
 
Ah right, and then there’s that whole being Born White thing. I may be naïve, but I believe that if I had been born as a Person of Color with the above same attributes, that I’d certainly have more challenges than I currently do, but not challenges that would be debilitating, and I believe my life would not be demonstrably worse than it would be if I hadn't been given the other things on that list. Oh, I am pretty sure I’d get pulled over by the cops more often though. And then maybe shot for no freaking reason, but I’ll call that an outlier scenario.

We were then asked at the conference in Philly to make a list of ways we can use our privileges to address racism, and I came up with this list:
-         witnessing – in the Christian sense. Fight it; recognize it; Define it; point it out when you see it; don’t allow it.
-         Educate kids, family and friends
-         Hiring
-         Social media
-         Educate myself
-         Political
    o   Fight for equitable school funding (PA is worst in the nation in that regard)
 
After that day in Philly, I was asked by a friend to write a column for the local paper about it, unfortunately required to consist of no more than 600 words. I'm not terribly proud of it, particularly because of the word-count restriction, but it can be found here:


This is probably already my longest ever post, and I haven’t even gotten to the one thing I wanted to post here! So I’ll post this and then move to the rest of it.
 

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