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'Very Few People' Know Their Privilege: A One Small Step Conversation

Nathan Cone
For StoryCorps
Dean Lewis and Rebecca Baker, at the TPR studios following their StoryCorps interview.

What happens when two people of differing political viewpoints come together in the same room for a conversation? For those who participated in Texas Public Radio’s “One Small Step” partnership project with StoryCorps, the answers were enlightening. As it turns out, we all share the same planet, and there’s more commonality between us than differences.

Rebecca Baker, 66, describes herself as a “bleeding heart liberal.” She joined the self-professed “mixed bag” fiscal and social conservative Dean Lewis, 88, in our studios earlier this year. After sharing Thanksgiving food stories, and also recognizing their commonality as past Texas Public Radio volunteers, they began their conversation, and both hit upon something that their parents taught them about opportunity and privilege.

Transcript below:

Dean: Very few people know the extent to which they grew up privileged or to the extent to which they are privileged today.

Rebecca: But I think that would be true among liberals too, very much.

Dean: Oh, absolutely.

RebeccaWe just don't realize it.

Dean: It's the way the white community is.

RebeccaWe just depend on it.

DeanAbsolutely. Well, you... we depend on, we rely on it. It's a crutch.

Rebecca: Yes, it is.

Dean: I have a friend who is a hardcore conservative... across the board conservative. He and I can still discuss politics a little bit, knowing that we will disagree.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Dean: I wish he would listen to me on a few subjects that he cannot hear.

Rebecca: Yeah, like what?

Dean: Race is one. He just can't hear me. And that's a big one for me.

Rebecca: Are you saying he's a racist?

Dean: Yeah, absolutely. But he doesn't know it.

Rebecca: Ah.

Dean: He either doesn't know it or won't admit it. He's privileged to the point that he cannot acknowledge his privilege.

Rebecca: Right.

Dean: And that's true for a lot of whites.

Rebecca: Yeah, a lot of...

Dean: We grew up thinking we were the norm and everybody else was an outlier. Well, that's not true anymore. And we need to rethink our positions. I have food and clothing. I had shelter, as you did. Never anything luxurious. In the 1930s, nobody did, I don't think. But we always had, we always had enough.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Dean: And as I looked around me in Houston, I lived very near the dividing line between black and white. And I could see the black community. I was in it frequently. They didn't have enough.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Dean: And if you go to that same place today, they still don't.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Dean: So, I know how privileged I am. Even though I squandered my public education, at least I had an opportunity.

Rebecca: Did you have friends...

Dean: Oh, yeah...

Rebecca: ...in the black community?

Dean: No. Oh, no. Nobody did in the 1930s. No whites did in the '30s. It wasn't allowed. It was not allowed.

Rebecca: Did your parents not allow it? Or, just culture in general?

Dean: Culture, society in general didn't allow it.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Dean: It just wasn't done. And I didn't know it. They knew it.

Rebecca: Yep. And I think that's why my parents were so influential in my life is because we were always aware of those who had less.

Dean: My mother was a brilliant woman. And one time I made a disparaging comment about another race. And she sat me down and said, "Do you remember the story of Passover?" I'm Jewish. And she said, "Do you remember the story of Passover?" and I said, "Well, sort of." And she said, "We were slaves in the land of Egypt. We were slaves in the land of Egypt." That stopped me cold. Smart lady.

Rebecca and Dean's interview will be archived at the Library of Congress.

“One Small Step” on Texas Public Radio is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional support is provided by Monterrey Iron & Metal.

Nathan has been with TPR since 1995, when he began working on classical music station KPAC 88.3 FM, as host of “Tuesday Night at the Opera.” He soon learned the ropes on KSTX 89.1 FM, and volunteered to work practically any shift that came his way, on either station. He worked in nearly every capacity on the radio before moving into Community Engagement, Marketing, and Digital Media. His reporting and criticism has been honored by the Houston Press Club and Texas Associated Press.