The P.A.

A weekly address from Patrick Adams,
President of St. Louis Community Credit Union

One’s Status and Privilege Can Be Used to Make a Difference

On January 18th, 2011, posted in: Uncategorized by

This past weekend, I came to understand that on the food chain of privilege, I was at the top.  Not me personally, but me as a white guy.  After about 16 hours of diversity training, I learned that, comparatively speaking, I have pretty much ended up in the “lap of luxury.”

Now, I have to tell you that, upon recollection of my time on this planet, I would not have classified my formidable years, or my current status for that matter, as privileged.  In fact, I distinctly remember that my “silver spoon” was purchased at a yard sale.  Nevertheless, my attention was keen as a number of speakers and facilitators helped me to understand that I and all the other males of my ilk – how do you say – “got the tiger by the tail.”

As an example, I have never been pulled over by the police because of the color of my skin; I have never been questioned for being in “the wrong part of town;” nor have I ever been mistaken at the front door of a country club as hired help and, thusly, escorted to the kitchen.  Likewise, I have never consciously thought to wear a suit and tie to get my driver’s license picture taken in order to diminish a long-lasting stereotype.  As the day progressed, there were literally dozens of these examples.  It was gut-wrenching!

To find out that there is still both overt and disparate racism in the world and in the workplace was disturbing.  Call me naïve, but I thought we were past this point – apparently not.  Maybe because my “whiteness” has kept me from being subjected to such injustice, I’ve lost track as to how often it still exists – despicable!

Early on in the day, I was defensive.  Soon, thereafter, I came to understand through rational thought (rather than emotional reaction) that, in fact, I received a certain level of justice where others may not have – or never will for that matter.  What to do with the privilege becomes the question.  If I’m sitting on a pile of white privilege, then don’t I have an obligation to eradicate the problem where I can?  And, furthermore, shouldn’t I use my status to help others to have a better life?

Undeniably, the problem of racism is pervasive, and one guy (i.e. me) can’t necessarily turn the world around anytime soon.  But I’ll tell you what I can do…I can ensure that through my leadership and commitment to economic justice, St. Louis Community Credit Union will stay committed to serving all people, especially those of lesser incomes, to ensure a better standard of living and a better lifestyle – no matter what a person’s race.

On this the national holiday to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I recall his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in which he wrote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  The belief that economic injustice is not hurting people of color, as well as those who are low to moderate income status, should be rejected.  It happens every day.

I’m reminded of the inspirational story of the young man who finds literally thousands of starfish washed ashore on the beach and begins the arduous process of throwing them back one by one.  A naysayer reminds the young man that there is just too many to make a difference.  About that time, the Good Samaritan picks up one of the starfish and throws it back and proudly proclaims “it makes a difference to that one.”

Now that I know what I know, I’ve got to do more to make a difference.  However small, it’s a start and it will certainly matter to someone.

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