Growing up, I had Hispanic friends, Italian friends, German friends, Irish friends, Chinese friends, Japanese friends, and friends from many other backgrounds. However, I never had a black friend because I lived in a white residential area in a white/Hispanic/Chinese/Japanese suburban community that was just now accepting Vietnam orphans into the mix.

I never thought about someone being Hispanic or Chinese or white, but I did think about the Vietnam orphans. They came from a different country, across the ocean, and had seen things and done things I might never do. I was, as a little white kid, completely envious and obviously ignorant.

Facing black while being white

It wasn't until I went into business that I began hiring people from the black community. I honestly never thought about skin color because I didn't have to. That did not mean that the people I hired didn't think about it though. In retrospect, I am sure they did.

Why?

Because of White Privilege I was ignorant. I didn't need to consider the color of my skin because it was never an issue. My prospective employees thought about it because many of them had to ride BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit, from Oakland to Fremont and as I learned, they were as uncomfortable coming into Fremont as I would have been going into the projects in downtown Oakland.

Oakland, in many ways, was another country and somewhere along the way we had learned to fear each other and because of white privilege I had never even recognized the fear. To me it didn't exist, but to them, (notice the separation), it was of vital importance.

Vickie was born in the projects and applied for a job at my business. As usual, I didn't see her color, I just saw her. She not only became my friend and mentee, but she was also one of the most brilliant young people I have ever known. At the time, I didn't understand why she was applying for a position with me as clearly, this young woman was made for great things, but I was also very grateful.

She was smart and eager to learn and I was looking for people just like her.

As we grew to know each other, Vickie tried to explain what it was like growing up black in the projects, but there was no way I could understand her experience. My ignorance was an instance of white privilege. I had no reference, an invisible gift given me the moment I was born. She also taught me that no matter how intelligent you are, if you grow up in a ghetto, you feel like that's where you belong. Another concept I could not understand.

Another gift bestowed upon me.

Our friendship grew until one day, she flew off on her own. It was time and she was ready. We lost track of one another until one day, I received an e-mail from her. She was an editor at a magazine in San Francisco and in her e-mail she said, "Thank you. You were the first person who ever believed in me."

To this day, I continue to be stunned by those words. No child, of any color, should go without a word of encouragement. It is an abominable waste of energy to force a child to jump such a painful hurdle.

Crossing the color barrier

White privilege is not about thinking better of yourself than someone who is another color. Nor is it about apologizing for your whiteness. Instead, white privilege is about all the things being white gives you for free. Like being born with tons of things you never need to earn. These are things you don't even think about. Like, not thinking about your skin color or social privilege or wondering if a person in a white community will hire you, but you are so desperate for a job you must try.

Having white privilege does not negate the trials we all suffer. Some of us have diseases or are handicapped. Some belong to different ethnic communities while others belong to different religions. Privilege means many things. White privilege is just one privilege among many others. It is one slice in the human pie and lest we get caught up in the many slices there is a way to make it all work and that is called empathy.

When I see the violence today in our colleges and even in downtown Seattle and the Bay Area, I am heartsick.

Racism is born of misunderstanding and fear and, in some cases, even designed as in Antifa. As a collective group of thinking human beings, we can see that this will not end well.

Yes, white privilege exists and yes, we all struggle, but these are things we must discuss not kill over. The hate I see in the street is new and must be stopped now. Be brave enough to do what Martin Luther did, put out a hand instead of a gun.Give a hug instead of a slap in the face or a kick in the jaw. It might take time, but it will be worth the effort and energy it takes to get there.

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