Opinion/McCord: Reflections of a privileged white traveler – Seacoastonline.com

To those who may feel consternation over what I wrote on the manner in which the term "white privilege" is used, I'd like to offer some amplification and references to my own experiences as a white man traveling the world.

The injustice visited upon Black Americans, brought here in chains, enslaved and then subjected to the institutional racism of the Jim Crow period is not a matter for debate. It is an undeniable part of our history. My mother was from the South, and I saw vestiges of this first hand.

What is also undeniable to me is that since the 1960s the nation has been increasingly focused on equal rights for all and there has been a lot of progress bringing disadvantaged Americans into the mainstream. I believe this aspect of the problem requires our full attention. Most of us living today had no hand whatsoever in these events.Yes, we need to learn from past mistakes but it does no one any good to continue reliving them, no matter the degree of remorse or guilt people may feel. Simply stated, ill will toward those different from us, racial, ethnic and religious discrimination has existed from the dawn of our species, and it will continue to exist far beyond our time on this earth. We need to work around that with effective policies to lift people up and a more personal appeal to change what people carry in their hearts.

The challenges of disadvantaged Americans are best met through expanding opportunities across the board. Those whose circumstances have resulted in a lack of opportunity or the perception thereof need our help, as a society, to ensure a level playing field for all. We should endeavor to provide this assistance to those who live trapped in high crime areas, to the many victimized by failed schools denying their children a quality education, to those who are uninformed and unprepared for the life choices available to them, and to those whose energy is diverted in order to keep their families fed, roofed, and alive. Yes, this group disproportionately includes Black Americans, but these challenges do not always directly correlate to skin color.

The way white people are often characterized is also a concern. This is why I object to the term "white privilege" being applied to all white people and assumed to victimize all non-white people. The world is much more nuanced than that.

Some people will automatically characterize me as a privileged white man because they see the amount of world travel I have experienced as prima facie evidence of privilege. I am appearing on these pages with increasing frequency, so perhaps you may find a bit of my personal history is appropriate. If you will kindly bear with me, I will tell you a little bit about how my life of travel got started.

My first trip outside of this country was in the early 1970s. Having dropped out of school at 19, I scraped $2,500 together from working dead end jobs and formed a business enterprise with two friends focused on imports from Asia. We were pioneers and it was the classic shoestring operation. I went off to India with a partner for three months while another stayed behind beginning to refurbish a run down house where we planned to open a shop.

In India we lived on $5 per day each. That had to cover all our meals, accommodation, local transport and a lot of other expenses we incurred trying to find sources for merchandise we wanted to buy. If you never traveled to the third world 50 years ago you cannot imagine what that was like. For the next three years our typical hotel room cost $3 per night and we spent 2 - 4 months per year on the very rough edges of Asia. We suffered all sorts of food poisoning and other serious diseases including dengue fever and amoebic dysentery. We were ripped off by unscrupulous merchants and other foreign tourists. There was zero entitlement underlying any of what we did.

When we got home our inexperience proved to be a big issue. We made every dumb mistake you can imagine. For four years we lived in shabby rooms above our little shop and took $20 per person per week out of the cash register to eat.

Slowly, driven by persistence and an unshakeable belief in our dream, we managed to move things forward. Over the next 20 years we built up a thriving wholesale business. Gradually we were able to upgrade our living standards. Only when the business was fully established were we able to travel with any degree of comfort.

I feel the greatness of our nation is grounded in the will of our people to work hard, make sacrifices, and demonstrate integrity in the pursuit of our dreams. Listening to the way many people talk today, their efforts to divide us into racial groups with broad brush characterization applied to all strikes me as counter productive. Instead we need to go back to our roots and ensure more and more people are able to pursue their dreams in the manner many of us have done. Telling them they are doomed because they are not white and hanging responsibility for that on our whiteness is not going to do anything positive for anybody.

Ken McCord of New Castle is a retired small business owner with a keen interest in contemporary affairs. His education is a result of visiting 80-plus countries in a lifetime of world travel. The views expressed are those of the writer.

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Opinion/McCord: Reflections of a privileged white traveler - Seacoastonline.com

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