The world belonged to…

When I was very young, I remember that my dad had three jobs. He had a day job which I don’t remember. In the evenings, he worked in a liquor store and I remember going to see him there. And, on Friday night and Saturday, he played Country Music with my grandpa, uncle and a couple of other guys.
From stories, I know that this last job was the one my mom hated the most and my dad loved. My recollections of going to sleep on wooden benches at the back of dance halls are pretty vague, but, my dad’s delight in playing banjo, guitar and rhythm piano was his sweet spot.
As a kid trying to sit still and listen never goes well. I had to dance.Roddy-Dunkerson
My dad was injured in a mining accident before I was born and couldn’t work in the copper mines. Those were the good jobs. So, having dropped out of school to join the Navy in World War II, he had to take what he could get.
We were a not quite respectable family. It didn’t feel like I had privilege.
Racism in my home town centered on Mexican Americans. We lived on the Mexican border, so, the truth is that most Mexican Americans were “native” and my folk were “immigrants”. But, we didn’t tell the story quite that way.
Because I was white, the world belonged to my tribe.
Some years ago, I saw an excellent program about Latino contemporaries of mine who went to Viet Nam out of a hyper patriotism. The program focused on an Arizona mining community much like the one where I grew up. While that taught me a great deal about the privileged place that I enjoyed, it wasn’t the gut check that first made my privilege clear.
I dropped out of college during the Viet Nam war and joined the Navy and was richly rewarded for an act of questionable rationality. When I came back to finish my undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona, a young white man confessed to the murder of one of my high school class mates whose body had been found burned in a vacant lot several years before.
Tony, the victim, was bright and a very gifted clarinet player. He was first chair among many, I was the third chair tuba player among three. Tony was also a good scholar. I could compete with Tony in Math and Science, but, nowhere else.
Amazingly, the man who confessed to Tony’s murder was convicted and released. The years of suffering from guilt before his voluntary confession were considered sufficient punishment.
Tony was Mexican and gay.
I am alive and have been blessed. I like to think that I have earned some of the good things that have come my way. But, Tony deserved wonders of which I could not dream. Tony’s skin color and sexuality in the eyes of a judge made his death insignificant.
Reading the story in the newspaper I knew Tony was not valued.
I am privileged because I am white.
—Roddy Dunkerson, Nebraska Conference Minister

One Response to The world belonged to…

  1. Jonna Jensen says:

    Wow. Amen. Thank you!

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