The term “white privilege” was slapped across my face with no explanation. I rejected it by attempting to explain my life’s struggles and defend myself against this term. That reaction fell on deaf ears and created frustration all around.
Last weekend, my 10-year-old son and I went for a drive and discussed what happened to George Floyd, a black man that was publicly killed by a white police officer in Minnesota, and the protests that have been going on around the country ever since.
As we were talking, I made a turn into an unfamiliar neighborhood to get a better look at the nearby lake. As we were turning in, a thought brushed ever so slightly through my mind – if anyone’s outside, they’ll be thinking “who’s this”.
Because of the conversation we were having, my thoughts jumped to wondering what it may be like if I was a black person driving through this same neighborhood. In many cases and in many neighborhoods, I’d be worried about more than someone thinking “who’s this”.
That’s when it hit me! This is what white privilege is. I can drive through most neighborhoods and not worry that I’m going to run into a racist that may yell slurs at me and my son, or that someone will call the cops because they think I look suspicious. If I was black, I may not even take the risk of turning into a curious neighborhood.
I realized that ‘white privilege’ is not a label used to describe me. It’s not a descriptive feature of me at all, it’s a thing. It’s something that exists in the United States. It’s not something I can change about myself, it’s something that I need to understand I have.
It does not mean that I personally never struggled. It does not suggest that I was born on easy street with a silver spoon in my mouth. It does not assume that I didn’t work for what I’ve accomplished. It’s not an insult, it’s a fact. The fact is, I don’t have to put thought or energy into things that others have to just because of the color of their skin.
Having white privilege allows me to:
- Drive through an unfamiliar neighborhood without the fear that the cops will be called
- Ask someone to leash their dog in a park that requires dogs to be leashed, without being accused of threatening their life
- Play loud music in my car at a gas station without getting shot
- Jog through a neighborhood without being gunned down by “vigilantes”
- Take a walk through my own neighborhood without careful thought about what I’m wearing and how I’m walking
- Wear my angry emotions on my face in public
- Instinctually cry, when I get pulled for a traffic violation, because I feel like a child getting yelled at by a parent. My instinct is not to run because I fear for my life.
- Commit a small crime without fear of being killed by the police
- Count on police for protection, not harassment
The above is a short list represented by my limited knowledge and capacity to explain. The real list is long, consisting of years of injustices and inequalities, and includes invisible injustices anywhere from healthcare inequality to retail inequality.
None of it has ever been considered a privilege to me, they are a given…things I didn’t have to think about, but not everyone is given these things.
It’s outrageous! Everyone needs to use their voice to provoke change.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ― Maya Angelou