Sir Doug: The Willing By Kevin Hofmann Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion When I worked at Nationwide Insurance, I had a co-worker who became a good friend. His name was Doug and we grew up so differently. He was from a small rural town in Ohio, and I grew up in Detroit. Doug was kind, a little naïve, and very curious. After we had known each other for a while Doug would occasionally stop by my office to tell me about how great his Buffalo Bills football team was, and I would remind him that the Bills are the only team to ever go to four straight Super Bowls and lose them all. He would remind me that my Detroit Lions will only go to the Super Bowl if they pay for tickets to sit in the stands. In between the joking, we would have deep conversations about race, racism, class, politics, religion, and life. One afternoon, Doug stopped by and somehow we got into a conversation about schooling. Doug wanted to know why the Black students in the inner city struggled so much in school. He wanted to know why they didn’t take school as seriously as the white kids in the suburban school he went to growing up. I trusted Doug and he sincerely wanted to know the answer. So, I felt comfortable, not obligated, to give my thoughts. I explained to Doug sometimes privilege means you get access to things others don’t. The resources available to him and his classmates were much different from the resources given to students in the inner city. Those resources make a huge difference in how children learn and what they learn. Doug pushed back a little and said that a book in the suburbs is the same as a book in the inner city. I agreed. Then I asked Doug if he believed that the test scores of students in the suburbs were higher than those of students in the inner city. He agreed with that fact and so did I. The “why” behind that is where we differed. I then said, “If you believe that, then you must believe one of two scenarios is taking place. You either believe that the resources and opportunities between the two communities are vastly different and unequal, or you believe one group is simply naturally more gifted. Do you think children in the inner city aren’t as smart as the students in the suburbs?” Doug sat still. He wasn’t sure how to answer and I think he thought I was luring him into a trap, so he sat still trying to figure a way out. He had to either admit there was inequality or admit that he felt children of color were inferior, lazy, or lacked the ability or drive to learn. Doug chose not to answer. Then I asked Doug if he had a computer class when he was in school. He said he did. I asked him to describe the class to me. He began by stating the computer lab had a computer at each desk, a smart board at the front of the room, a teacher, and a teacher’s aide as well. He then explained that during his senior year of high school, students were entrusted with their own laptop for school. I asked him if he thought it would make a difference in what the children learned if they only had 10 computers for a class of 20 students. I asked if he thought it would be more productive and efficient for teachers and students if the students all had their own computers instead of having to share. I asked him if he thought having an additional teacher in the room might help the students learn. He answered “yes” to all the above questions. Privilege assumes everyone is on an even playing field. It assumes we all have equal access to the same resources, which isn’t true. This does not mean that students with laptops don’t have to study. They still must work hard to get the grades, but the environment in which they must learn is more conducive to learning. The tools they have access to help greatly. Doug then stated that he had a Black friend who grew up in the inner city and his friend was very successful. His friend didn’t let this disadvantage stop him. I responded by asking if he played a sport in high school. He said he a pitcher on the high school’s varsity team. I asked him who his favorite pitcher in major league baseball is/was and he responded, “Nolan Ryan.” I asked him why he didn’t turn out to be as successful as Nolan Ryan as a pitcher. Doug explained Nolan Ryan was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He went on to explain Nolan had access to better facilities, better coaching, and better opportunities. I then asked Doug if he thought it was fair that I compared his success in high school to someone who was atypical when it came to athletic talent. I asked him if he thought it was fair that I judge his success in baseball based upon a “once-in-a-lifetime” talent. I asked him if it was fair to say that he must be lazy because he wasn’t able to rise out of his disadvantage. I asked him if it was fair to judge his ability based on someone who rose above his station to defy the odds. Doug’s response was quiet. “I guess I hadn’t thought about all that.” Over the past three weeks, I have written about the taboo subject of white privilege. I tried to point out that we all experience privilege. I benefited from my parents’ white privilege and was able to live in a wonderful neighborhood that was off-limits to my Black friends. What I didn’t share was that because my parents adopted a Black child, they gave up a lot of privilege. My father was blacklisted from the Lutheran Church in Michigan for decades because he adopted me. My parents were excommunicated from several communities because of their lack of whiteness. Privilege can be fickle, but I had to admit it gave me access to a better home and safer community than most. Privilege can mean exclusive access to certain things. It gives the benefit of not having to worry about certain things. As a man I rarely worry about my safety when I am out alone. There is privilege in not having to worry about my safety often. There is privilege is not having to worry about dodging people in a public place to assure my safety. Privilege can mean you get the benefit of the doubt. When Black children with fewer resources and fewer opportunities are outperformed by other communities, the assumption is they are lazy or less intelligent. Often, we blame those who are disadvantaged and write them off as the problem instead of assuming they have value and worth, looking to see what is broken and why, and taking the time and resources to fix the system. We need to think about that, too! I appreciated Doug’s friendship. We were humble enough to learn from each other. He would occasionally ask questions that were offensive, but I understood his desire was to learn so I took the time to answer them. He did the same with me. Rarely did we agree, but we took the time to hear each other and I think we helped each other to see a world different than before we met. It’s okay to admit we may have benefited from privilege. Once we understand that, it is up to us to use the privilege we have to make room for others to share in the same privilege.