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Author Tom Schweizer helps people understand ‘white privilege’

Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio
Tom Schweizer, author of "Understanding What it Means to be White and Privileged"

People don’t always understand or are easily able to define the term “white privilege.” Those who do not understand it might also take offense to it. But now there’s a journal to help change that.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh spoke to Tom Schweizer, a retired business executive who created a journal to help guide discussions and promote personal reflection about race and white privilege.

Schweizer’s journal "Understanding What it Means to be White and Privileged," is a 52-week journal that poses questions people either do not ask or are afraid to ask in public.

“It’s a great opportunity to take some private time and be alone with your thoughts,” Schweizer said about the journaling. Schweizer also defines concepts such as structural racism, people of color and reverse racism.

He said white privilege is “a system of unearned benefits and opportunities that one group, in our case white people in the United States, have over people of color.”

Schweizer said he first became aware that race existed when he went to a baseball game at Busch Stadium in the early 1950s. His grandfather pointed out the seating arrangement, where African-Americans sat in one section, but white people could sit wherever they wanted.

After the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Schweizer said he heard comments he found to be offensive.

 “I was looking for a simple and some type of private way for white people to begin to question themselves and start on their, what we call, journey to understanding race and privilege,” Schweizer said about starting the journal.

He said it is ultimately up to white people to take responsibility for understanding and calling out white privilege. It’s not about white people having to give up anything, but creating more opportunities for those who were previously denied opportunities.

“Racism and white privilege was created by white people and you don’t need a person of color to help you understand it,” he said.

For institutions wanting to incorporate programs to help people understand white privilege, Schweizer said the YWCA’s “Witnessing Whiteness” program sends facilitators to help with those discussions.

Upcoming holiday dinners are times when families and friends come together and often discuss current events.

To avoid hostility that comes with approaching controversial topics, Schweizer said, “Take some time to learn what it means to call someone in, not call someone out.” Instead of being condescending, try having private conversations with people and ask them questions to understand how they got to their point of view.

Schweizer’s journal can be purchased at Subterranean Books on Delmar, online on Amazon or http://www.whiteandprivileged.com/


St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. Follow us @STLontheAir


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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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