The horrific events of this week (month, year), have rightfully sparked protests across the land, as well as a national conversation about race and how people of color are treated by the police. It is a very good time for those of us who are white to show solidarity, fight for police reform, and also to sit down and have a personal heart-to-heart to check our own privilege, which may be class or gender based but is also, always in this country, racial.
Here are some things I have been thinking about lately, about my own privilege:
- I have always gone to and worked at colleges (4 and counting, in three states) where most of the students and most of the teaching faculty looked like me.
- I grew up in a white-dominated part of the rural south, and when the rednecks drove by in their pickups with confederate flags draped across the back I thought they were assholes, but I didn’t think they were trying to target me, and I did not fear for my safety in that community (except perhaps in a generalized way as one fears any drunken yokel with a rifle).
- I have never feared the police would harm me. Not when I naively and, I thought at the time, bravely marched through the streets of big cities protesting the WTO and the cops threatened arrest and tear gas. Not when I have marched through other streets for other things, or danced in semi-unauthorized street parties. Not when I have gotten pulled over for traffic stops. Not when I wrecked my car, in an accident that was my fault. Not on campus, either. Once a cop in Seattle pulled up alongside me and followed me a half block; they wanted to tell me my backpack was hanging open.
- Except in a very few communities, no one looks at me askance on the street in this country; there are few places I feel out of place. As a woman, I try to avoid dark alleys or insalubrious bars; as a white person, I go where I please.
- I have sailed through customs and immigration with no trouble in this country every single time, except for that one time when I crossed the Canadian border in a VW bus full of hippies for a concert. Even then, they let us through after a short while. And though for a while after 9/11 I had the random special screening flag on my boarding passes, the screening was always both polite and perfunctory. It’s been dropped since.
- The stars of most of the iconic tv shows and movies I watched growing up look like me (only prettier).
- No one in this country has ever asked me where I or my family is from, except in a what-state-and-city-are-you-from sense. I have never been made to feel I didn’t belong.
I cannot imagine living without these and other free passes in life, yet that is exactly what people of color do. And if you’re not white, you don’t get to choose when you have a national conversation about race; it happens every day, all around you. On top of that I can only imagine how tiring it is to have people like me discover this, perhaps after some trauma like Ferguson that is for me impersonal, and then talk about racial inequity like we’ve discovered the moon.
May we all stand up for human rights for everyone; may tomorrow be better.