It’s seldom productive to respond when a reader criticizes an opinion column. They simply have a different point of view and that’s precisely what this opinion page is all about.
However, in the case of recently published reader criticism of my column on “real racism,” a response offers a positive opportunity for readers to gain helpful perspective on the background of one of their columnists. Moreover, there is an important lesson here.
I am Caucasian. Based on that, the critic branded me “pathetic” by daring to “white-splain” racism. He dismissed me as an “old white guy” with “zero experience” enjoying the “benefits of a lifetime of white privilege.”
Well, our lower middle-class Midwestern family did always have three square meals and a roof over our heads. But to afford college I worked multiple menial jobs including bean picking, scrubbing pots and pans, digging footings, and selling encyclopedias door to door. I studied hard and graduated near the top of my class, earning a partial academic scholarship to an Ivy League university.
In the late 1960s, I resided for two years in an old urban area of Evanston, Illinois, populated primarily by minorities. In fact, I was the only Caucasian regularly showing up for softball games organized by my African American neighbors. I was usually the last one picked.
In the mid-1970s, serving as human resources director, I created the first affirmative action program for the city of Moorhead. It guaranteed for the first time that every employment practice in the city would be based on assuring that people of all races and other protected factors had equal opportunities for city jobs. The director of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights used my program as a model for other Minnesota cities. Her ethnicity never came up.
In the mid-1980s, the director of the Employer Education Service of the University of Minnesota, an African American, hired me to teach a workshop I designed for employers on how to assemble non-discriminatory policy and procedure manuals. I taught that continuing education workshop for many years at the Humphrey Center and multiple other college venues, including North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota.
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Recently, I spent quality time with Tucson Sector Border Patrol agents in their citizen academy. Many of our agents are Hispanic. And yes, Mr. Critic, if Caucasian Europeans illegally crossed the border with children, Border Patrol agents would follow the rule of law and temporarily separate them until determining whether or not the kids were actually theirs.
Coming from humble beginnings, I worked hard to make a positive difference for all of the people in my several communities. I learned about “real racism” from hands-on life experiences. Whatever I may have achieved over time came from really hard, determined work and more than a few failures along the way. Pathetic white-splain? A lifetime of white privilege? Zero experience? Readers can decide.
The important lesson here is the foolishness of ginning up hateful personal attacks on the character and experience of people we have never met and know nothing about, especially when based entirely on nonsensical racial stereotypes like “white privilege.”