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"Acknowledge, Understand White-Skin Privilege,"

by Julian Bond November/December 1997 issue of Poverty & Race

Here is one thing -- the most important thing -- President Clinton's panel on race ought to do.

It ought to find a way to get Americans of European descent to acknowledge the privileges they enjoy because of their race.

Acknowledging and understanding white-skin privilege is the vital first step in any honest dialogue on race. A forthright, candid internal exchange among whites is a necessary first phase, the predicate to interracial conversation.

For years, blacks and some whites built a successful civil rights movement by contrasting black inequality with the national promise of justice for all. The stark divide between black and white life chances was a mighty fuel for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

But what had been a black-led interracial movement in the 1960s has largely become a black-led black movement in the 1990s. For many, black life choices are assumed to ac-count for diminished black life chances. Discussions of race focus entirely on the inadequacy or wrongness of existing remedies or on schemes of community uplift. For a variety of reasons, white Americans today demonstrate little interest or involvement in narrowing the great racial divide.

The Race Initiative -- and all of us -- must find some way to engage whites in common struggle with blacks.

I despair that I cannot imagine how this is to be done -- perhaps through structured and informal education, public forums and neighborhood-level discussion groups. But who will come? Who will summon them?

It is remarkable to consider that the Promise Keepers are the only predominately white group I can think of who have achieved racial harmony as a core belief -- even if they do not acknowledge that something is wrong between the races in America -- and have pledged to do something about it. Why do they stand almost alone?

Julian Bond is Board Chair of the NAACP and is Distinguished Professor in Residence at American University and a member of the University of Virginia‘s History Department faculty. He wrote the Preface to PRRAC’s book, Double Exposure: Poverty & Race in America.

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