In the early 90’s my 12-year-old daughter and I joined a martial arts class at a nearby school. I did so because I thought it would be a great bonding experience with my daughter, and I had been long interested in studying martial arts.
One of the first things explained to us was the “belt system”. As first timers, we were given a white belt. The instructors told us with time and practice we could work up the ranks from white, purple, and blue, and on to green, brown and then 1st degree black belt. We learned there were infinite number of degrees of black belts, because one could never learn all there was to learn. New skills and techniques were always being added. In addition, I had to reshape my then 45-year-old body to use new muscles, and my mind to think in new ways as I had never before participated in a contact sport.
Daughter and I often laughed at my inept skills (actually we still do) as after training two days a week for over four years I was still a purple belt. Feeling frustrated and tired of being punched and kicked by the other participants most of whom were 20 years younger, I “retired” from martial arts.
What does that have to do with race and privilege?
I have been actively learning and studying about these subjects for over 25 years. That sounds like a lot of time to invest. If I had to rank myself on my knowledge and practices around race, inclusion, and privilege, I would say I am a blue belt, at best. There is still so much to learn. Moreover, the more I learn and practice the more I understand, and the more skilled I become in teaching what it means to be white and privileged. All of this increases my capacity to bring justice to our society.
So wherever you are on your journey, do not give up. There will be some kicks and punches along the way. There is more to learn. Be committed. There is work to be done.
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