On White Privilege; a Case Example

This post is directed toward my fellow white people.  It’a about white privilege, something too few of us are aware of, because being able to be blissfully unaware is one of the ways racism is able to be perpetuated.   What follows is but 1 small example of what white privilege looks like in everyday life:

I’m travelling across the country in a vehicle with no license plates, that is 28 days overdue for registration and I’ve been camping illegally in this beautiful state park for 3 days, undetected. I was finally stopped 2 days ago in the park by a park ranger. I was friendly, well spoken and dressed like someone’s mom (if your mom is a middle aged white lady). I made chit chat and conversation and after showing my bill of sale and title (signed over to me, but not officially printed with my name), I dare say that ranger left with a skip in his step, and for this I am grateful.

RV at Montana de oro

I am poor. I am homeless. I am disabled. Those statuses do not confer a lot of power in our culture. But I also come from a middle class upbringing and am highly educated/formerly professional, which also lends an air to how I carry myself. With all this, I am *acutely* aware, that if I had dark skin, things might not have turned out so well for me, no matter how poised, well-spoken or internally self-worthy I was.

If I was black, i would have immediately been suspected of a crime instead of just someone caught between 2 state’s laws regarding vehicle registration (and too broke to afford to pay for it).

If I was black, the police may have been called, I may have been cited, may have had my vehicle impounded.

May have been asked to step out of the vehicle, may have been thought to be non-cooperative.

May have been assaulted or roughed up.

May have been killed.

 

But none of those things happened, and I could easily walk away from this experience thinking, “you just have to be polite and do what they ask… only giving trouble gets trouble”, but if I thought that, I would be completely discounting the power of my Lily-white skin, my belief that even with everything else i’ve got going against me, this world is still my world and that I can reasonably expect to be treated fairly, with respect, even if I am breaking a law (I was breaking several, due to my afforementioned homelessness). This my friends is called White Privilege because this is not something every person in America can reasonably expect, even when they aren’t breaking any laws.

My Lily-white skin affords me a lot of privileges and rights that are not conferred on people of color and this is wrong.
My Lily-white skin affords me a lot of privileges and rights that are not conferred on people of color and this is wrong.

If you are a person of color, especially black, especially male, you’d be delusional to expect fair, respectful treatment from the authorities. Fair, respectful treatment is the exception, not the rule if you have black skin. And while it’s all lumped together under the umbrella term, “White Privilege”,  I think it’s actually white privilege and human rights which are not afforded to all.  I think an argument could be made with my example, that it was from either category.  The important part though, is that if I had been black, and especially a black man, I wouldn’t have been able to talk my way out of a ticket, or worse. I don’t think fair, respectful treatment is something I shouldn’t have, but neither do I have more of a right to it than a person of color.  Black Lives Matter too. I think everyone deserves to be treated with respect and not risk their mortality when interacting with the authorities, regardless of the color of their skin, religion, etc.  but not everyone is not currently afforded this right.  That’s why #BlackLivesMatter is important, and why saying, “all lives matter” in response is disrespectful and harmful.  Because no one is threatening white lives for just going about their day.

black lives matter

It’s a human right to be treated fairly and respectfully, and it’s a right I wish with every cell in my being and work for, to be extended to every human. And I pray that I can get well and my life stable soon, so I can devote more energy towards healing the racism and prejudice and ignorance and fear that is the root of this grave injustice.  As white people, awareness is an important 1st step, but it’s not all we must do.   If you are a white person who believes racism is wrong but you don’t know how you play a part in perpetuating it (and you do….we all do…perpetuating racism is the default in the US), it is incumbent upon you to get educated, build resilience and take actual actions at dismantling racism.   Doing so won’t make you a super cool person, deserving of accolades.  It is our Responsibility as white people to dismantle white supremacy.  Not working to end it is irresponsible.  See below for some practices.

“It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it”

~ Rabbi Tarfon,  Pirkei Avot

Take Home Practices:

  1. Learn about white privilege and all the ways white people gain benefits just because of their skin.  A good place to start is the survey created by Peggy McIntosh, called, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”: https://www.deanza.edu/faculty/lewisjulie/White%20Priviledge%20Unpacking%20the%20Invisible%20Knapsack.pdf
  2. take a workshop on unlearning racism.  They vary depending on your area.  The People’s Insititute for Survival and Beyond  holds regular unlearning racism workshops. http://www.pisab.org/workshops
  3. You can take specific actions to mobilize against police brutality now.  This article has good, actionable suggestions: http://www.ravishly.com/2015/04/10/what-you-can-do-right-now-about-police-brutality
  4. You can donate money to organizations fighting racism/police brutality and you can sign petitions.  Here’s one: http://action.momsrising.org/sign/federal_policing_reforms_copy?akid=s71179..QwCmxF
  5. Take up or increase some centering practice, such as meditation, yoga, walking in nature etc., so that you have more energy and resilience for fighting the good fight.  Remember that it’s normal to feel hopeless and overwhelmed and grief at the enormity of the injustices in the world, but only if you’re white do you get to just bow out with no reprecussions b/c it’s too heartbreaking.
  6. Expect to make mistakes. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and if you choose to take this work on, you’re going against the cultural norm and all your years of indoctrination….so be gentle with yourself…but don’t coddle yourself either….

 

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