FAIRPORT — Frank Staropoli, grandson of Italian immigrants, stood before a room full of people at Church of the Assumption Sept. 20 and tried to define the concept of white privilege.
"If I want to do something, I don’t have to be worried about if my race will be an issue," he explained.
Staropoli added that it’s quite common for white people to not think of themselves as having a race and instead consider themselves merely "normal," he added.
"I don’t think that way intentionally, but I don’t not think that way. That is white privilege," Staropoli said.
Understanding and recognizing white privilege is essential to efforts to end racism, according to Staropoli and Pat Mannix, who recently addressed the topic of racism in a series of discussions the pair recently led at the Fairport parish. These discussions were the latest in a string of related events in which Church of the Assumption parishioners have been involved over the past few years, noted Deni Mack, pastoral associate.
"We have had a wonderful series of workshops on racism, implicit bias and civil discourse here over the last couple of years," Mack said.
Church of the Assumption parishioners also participated at a neighboring church in discussions about race, and parishioners continued their engagement with this topic by participating in Mannix and Staropoli’s workshops on civil discourse, which took place at the parish July 12, July 26 and Sept. 20.
"Racism is a sin of great magnitude in our culture and we are obliged as people of faith to recognize it, stop glossing it over and find ways to remediate it," Mack said. "These workshops transform the mentality that says, ‘My immigrant ancestors made their own way and so can blacks.’ We want to transform the systems that maintain white privilege."
Because of white privilege, Staropoli said he does not fear for his life if he is pulled over by police while driving; it also enables him to walk through a store without worrying the store’s employees will think he looks suspicious and follow him.
Staropoli said he’d always been concerned about racism, but once he began to recognize his white privilege he realized simply being concerned was not enough. He had to take action, which he is doing by leading such discussions as those at Church of the Assumption.
All those who are concerned about racism also should take action, which can be as simple as recognizing and talking to family members about privilege, or stopping someone who starts telling a racist joke, he said. It also can mean recognizing that you are only an expert on your own experiences, not the experiences of others, according to Mannix.
"You can only speak out of your own reality," she said. "I can speak as a white woman, an elder, a heterosexual, a Catholic person. I can’t speak to being Italian. I can’t speak to being male. I can’t speak to being in a wheelchair," she said.
When discussing a problem, especially one that concerns members of another race, Mannix suggested that people try not to offer solutions.
"The best thing we can do is say, ‘I was in that situation once, and here’s what I would do,’ or, ‘I think if I ever was in that situation, here’s what I would do,’" she said. "The thing we need so greatly is humility."
Simply being humble and listening to what another person has to say can open a lot of doors, Mannix added.
White people often are afraid to start conversations about race because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing or accidentally offending someone, Staropoli said, adding that this fear blocks people from building bridges and making progress. He said he hoped the discussions at Church of the Assumption would encourage people to step outside their comfort zones, reflect on the discussions and take action.
"That’s got to be the bottom line, so get past the incredible fear that so many of us white folks have in even addressing race. Our hope in doing this is that it goes beyond this conversation," he said.
Parishioner Nora Root said she attended all three discussions and thought they would benefit her in the future.
"I think the world is in such a state of turmoil right now … that we could benefit from learning how to have discussions and disagree but still be civil," she said.