If you’re white and privileged, what is your responsibility when you witness racial injustice?
Updated: Apr 7
I have clearly benefitted from white privilege. I did not come to this awareness easily or quickly. After all, I believe I’ve encountered more than my share of challenges throughout life. I was one of seven children in a family with little money headed by a single mother—long before that term was even coined. I was raised on the poor side of town.
I’ve had to work pretty much everyday from when I was thirteen until I retired recently, and even managed full time jobs while earning a bachelors, a masters and a Ph.D. I earned the privilege to be the district leader—superintendent or assistant superintendent—of four different districts in Ohio. So I can be excused if I’ve felt that I’ve worked hard to accomplish all I have.
But I’ve come to realize, with the help of my minority friends and colleagues, that even though poor and from the “wrong side of town,” I’ve had advantages that has enabled my success that those not of my color do not. In other words, I’ve benefited from white privilege. I was given a break, or a leg up ,or an “Atta boy,” because I shared a heritage and color with most others in the system. I’ve realized this for quite a while, but have been reminded of this simple fact as I watched the nationwide protests
the past few weeks.
That’s why, when I wrote my award-winning new novel, BLOOD ON THE CHESAPEAKE, I chose as my theme, the struggle against racial injustice. Using the vehicle of historical narrative—the story takes place in 1998—my novel provokes the very question tearing the country apart: What is your responsibility when you confront racial injustice? Though I hardly planned it that way.
My protagonist, Darrell Henshaw, is a Midwesterner who travels halfway across the country for a new teaching and coaching job. He lands on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, in an idyllic small town with period houses with picket fences, miles of undulating shore lines and unforgettable sunsets. But he discovers the charming town hides an ugly secret, buried deep in its past. Thirty years earlier, a black man was murdered and his death ignored. Unlike Amaud Arbery, Sean Read, Breonna Taylor, or George Floyd, there was no one recording his tragic death. In his new home, Darrell comes face-to-face with the reality of bigotry and injustice and must decide how much is he willing to sacrifice to get justice for someone he doesn’t even know?
I’m not black and don’t pretend to understand the challenges people of color face in our society. But I have come to know and recognize white privilege and have gained insight on how the system works, for me and against some others.
I recognize there are things I can do to support equal rights for all our citizens. My hope is my narrative may give readers of all colors a historical lens to examine their own values on racial injustice by accompanying the protagonist on his journey of discovery.
*Randy Overbeck originally wrote this for an edition of the Xenia Gazette in June 2020.