Self-described as an organization with a mission to “foster the rise of the feminine, cultivating wisdom and mindfulness, for a more just, sustainable, and flourishing world,” the Sophia Institute creates programming that leads to transformation and unlimited spiritual growth.
A few weeks ago, as a part of their continuous Living Your Truth series, I was invited to moderate a live discussion between Dr. Millicent Brown and Mr. Armand Derfner, two individuals who have done wondrous works in the push for equity and equality. The conversation was very insightful, with each dropping jewels of knowledge and insight that can only be given by people with a combined 80 plus years of experience in the fight for social justice. While the entire evening was magical, a statement from Derfner really stuck with me.
Mr. Derfner is a litigator who has been practicing civil rights law for over 40 years and is easily one of the most self-aware white men I’ve ever met in my life. I don’t know if that’s actually a “thing,” but if there is an award for being a woke white man, I would personally nominate him because of what he said concerning the concept of time. He said that one of the privileges of being a white man is that he doesn’t have to wait for anything. I know it sounds simple that that’s one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard in my life, but hear me out.
Mr. Derfner illustrated this point by describing a seemingly uneventful moment at a repair shop. He said that he dropped his car to a particular repair shop because he was told that someone would drive him back to his office so his day wouldn’t be impeded. When he got there, he saw a businessman seated in the lobby dressed in a suit, a button up shirt, a tie, and briefcase. In fact, he said, the only noticeable difference between himself and the man in the waiting room was the color of their skin. After no more than five minutes of waiting, Mr. Derfner said he approached the counter and asked if that car was still going to take him back to his office. In a flash, the car pulled to the front of the shop where he and the gentleman in the lobby were both whisked away to their respective places of employment.
But what Mr. Derfner said next is what hit me right in the emotional breadbasket. He said that, even though he did not hold a conversation with the gentleman, he’d be willing to bet money that this Black, well dressed man had been waiting much longer than five minutes. And that he did so without a peep or murmur because that’s what it means to be Black in America. You learn to wait patiently for things that are rightfully yours.
Whether it be a ride to work or for slavery to end or for schools to be desegregated or for police brutality to be addressed in a meaningful way — whatever it is that Black people want — we have to wait because change usually only comes when white men are ready for it; not a moment sooner. In contrast, the privilege of being a white man in America means that he doesn’t have to wait for anything. Change, progress, improvement — whatever you want to call it — comes quickly for white men. On the occasions when that doesn’t happen, they are allowed to raise hell in a way that others cannot. That’s why something as solemn as kneeling is met with the heat of one thousand suns while the act of throwing thousands of dollars of other people’s merchandise into the Boston Harbor is canonized in history books as an example of true American valor.
White men are praised for immediately acting on their beliefs while Black men, who do the same exact thing, are often vilified. Martin Luther King, Jr. was labeled a “domestic terrorist” by the FBI. Muhammad Ali was considered a public enemy of America until he lost the ability to talk back. And just search the comments of any article about Colin Kaepernick to see how he is viewed. These Black men had the audacity to openly opine for what they wanted but because it wasn’t done “on schedule,” they were met with vitriol. Compare that to how the men who attempted to secede from the Union have been remembered. Men, who literally fought to continue the barbaric practice of slavery get streets, towns, and schools named after them and a Heritage Act that makes it damn near impossible for any of that to be changed. Compare that with MLK who caught a bullet in the head, Muhammad Ali who was jailed for his unwillingness to fight in the Vietnam war, and Kaepernick who has been all but Blacklisted from the NFL.
And for all of the readers who are going to rush into the comment section to tell me about all the many times they have waited for a variety of things, just chill. Mr. Derfner wasn’t suggesting that white men have literally never waited. I mean, it’s common knowledge that no one is immune from waiting in line at Space Mountain or at the DMV.
Mr. Derfner’s comments about time made me think about a quote I heard from James Baldwin. While visiting Cambridge University in 1965, Baldwin responded to Robert Kennedy’s claim that a Black person could conceivably become President in half a decade — give or take a few years. Said, Baldwin, “…we’ve been here for 400 years, and now he tells us that maybe, in 40 years, if you’re good, we may let you become president.” Ironically, it would take 43 years for Robert Kennedy’s statement to come to pass.
Maybe the fight we need to be undertaking is getting the powers-that-be to treat the causes of marginalized people with the same sense of urgency as they do theirs. To treat equality as a priority and not something that can be deferred until later.
Yeah, wait on that.