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Today’s guest author is Dr. N. Jonas Ohrberg, a professor at Ashford University and the founder and national director of The Human Promise, a non-profit rooted in the words, writings, and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Ohrberg has done extensive work in the United States and in Kenya related to bridging the gap between diverse communities based on racial heritage and tribal heritage, and has published peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed articles in national and international publications, as well as presented at national and international conferences.
Greetings Mr. Coates and Fellow Americans,
Growing up in Sweden, I perceived myself as a human being that was born Swedish. Upon my arrival in the United States thirty years ago, my designation as a human being changed; I became a “white American” overnight. I was no longer just a human being. Initially, I did not know what that entailed; however, over time, I grasped what I had become. Please, let me explain.
Later in life, I realized that as a white American, according to history and society, it seems that I am allegedly responsible for the tragic and inhumane historical mistreatment of the African American community and minorities and the continued inequalities and injustice in society. I am not sure what I did or didn’t do; I am simply a dad who loves his kids and a husband who loves his wife. I am my parents’ son. It seems that history and present-day race relations, which includes existing racism, are haunting America and our reality as Americans. The purpose for reaching out to all of you is to review some statements penned by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the works; “Letter to My Son,” Between the World and Me, and We Were Eight Years in Power.
I have had the opportunity to read some of Mr. Coates’ articles and also books. In “Letter to My Son,” I came across this statement:
“Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains—whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.”
Parts of American history are heartbreakingly tragic. I will never claim to comprehend the experiences of the members of the African American community. I can’t. I have not experienced the terrible historical inhumane mistreatment. My son, the first-born U.S. citizen in my family, is impacted by American history. As a white American, it seems that my son is also to be held responsible for the historical mistreatment of the African American community and minorities and the continued inequalities in society. Does the guilt of slavery and alleged continued oppression pass from one generation of white men to the next in my family without cause? Does this mean that future generations of my “white American” family will always be held accountable for the historical and present-day inequalities and injustice, no matter the content of their character?
In Between the World and Me, I came across the following statement:
“‘White America’ is a syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies…But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white…”
Controlling or dominating anyone is abhorrent. The mere thought is cruel. As a dad and husband, I never think of myself as a member of the “white community.” I have not made, nor have I seen my white American friends make, a concerted effort to dominate or control anyone. This is not to deny the historical discrimination against minority groups or current forms of racism and bias, but simply to emphasize that generalizations often do not apply. When considering the statement, will my posterity, as white Americans, always be officially known to conspire against and control members of minority communities no matter the content of their character?
While reading We Were Eight Years in Power, the following statement caught my attention:
“But that is the point of white supremacy–to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (and particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification.”
I completed my Ph.D. in 2010; it involved years of significant sacrifice. I owe student loans to the value of a very nice four-bedroom house. I worked hard, very hard. No one simply handed the Ph.D. to me because I am a white American. Also, I have watched my son work tirelessly to get ahead in life. No one should be afforded opportunities or preference because of racial heritage or color of skin. The notion that white men in my family achieve based on minimal qualifications does not make sense. Does this mean that my posterity, as white men, will only achieve based on minimal qualifications?
As I was considering reaching out to all of you, the following words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to mind:
“Men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth…when nobody will shout, ‘White Power!’ when nobody will shout, ‘Black Power!’ but everybody will talk about human power.”
As Americans rooted in a deep sense of humanity, can we emphasize human power to foster positive change and promote a new narrative of the American experience?
N. Jonas Ohrberg, PhD
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