Recently I looked through some agency case files from the 1940s. The desire on the agency’s part to help its clients was clearly there but then, so was the racism toward our African-American clients.

The challenges our black clients faced were rarely, if ever, attributed to the racist headwinds they faced, but rather were cloaked in representations of personal flaws and failures. We worked to wallpaper over the challenges in their lives, all the while ignoring those cruel, systemic issues that cut so deeply and persistently.

Eight decades later we have a racially and culturally diverse staff, who passionately and effectively advocate for their clients. Yet we have rarely affirmed that the challenges of many of our clients are substantially defined by the presence or absence of white and often male privilege.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. What I do know is that we must work hard as individuals and as a community to understand the role that privilege played and plays in our lives and in the lives of others, and how that privilege has been supported by both racism and sexism for a very long time.

Now is the time for us to change – this dishonest cruelty has gone on far too long. Let’s all commit to work to make this a more just and fair society, one that realizes Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that we no longer judge others by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

John Pfleiderer

Beloit

(John Pfleiderer is the director of Stateline Family Services. -- Editor)