The summer before my final year of middle school, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man in Ferguson, Missouri. The unjust event angered many across the nation, sparking protests and the national recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement and their slogan “hands up don’t shoot.” The killing also led to a Department of Justice investigation into the Ferguson police department. This was not the first killing of an unarmed Black man and it certainly was not the last. Yet, for me this event signaled an end to my “post-racial America” reverie.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I had been living in a world where I didn’t think racism was a big issue, or if it was, it occurred in “the south.” I went to a school where there were students of all races; we had a Black president; there was no contemporary Selma, Montgomery Bus Boycott or March on Washington. When I learned about the Civil Rights Movement or slavery, there was no mention of today’s systemic racism, for-profit prisons, or police brutality. Not that my ignorance had anything to do with my lack of education or even my age. It instead had much more to do with the color of my skin.
White privilege manifests itself in many ways. Yet, in simple terms it is the way society benefits those who are white. There are countless examples, from treatment by police and the judicial system, to the media using mug shots when Black people are murdered and praising a rapist’s athletic abilities when their skin is white. Why is it that Black men are stereotyped as violent when just one “far-right” website has generated more than 100 hate-crimes perpetrated by white men? The answer is white privilege.
One of the best articles on this subject is “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh, in which she lists 50 very basic ways in which she is privileged based on her race. The entire list is accessible and accurate, but here are just two: Number 20 “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.” Number 21 “I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.” I recommend reading this and recommending it to those who are confused about their privilege.
White privilege doesn’t mean that I won’t face discrimination in my life. It simply means any discrimination I might face will not be on the basis of my skin color. That is to say a poor white person who lives off of food stamps may not be privileged in the typical sense, yet their predicament has nothing to do with the color of their skin.
To some this idea is hard to accept. Perhaps it sounds abrasive to white people because many of us are taught that we are no longer racist, and that instead our generation is “colorblind.” Although slavery is not endemic in our society the way it once was, that does not mean we no longer have to think about the way Black people are treated in this country.
It annoys me when I see a white male consistently comment on any post criticizing the white race. Playing the “not all white people” card is tired and unnecessary, and frankly it derails the point of the post. Read and move on, if you’re so “woke” why are you in the comment section trying to prove it?
In a time when so much is being threatened, I can thank my privilege for allowing me to go to bed at night without worrying about the executive order that might be written tomorrow. I can also thank my privilege for allowing me to scroll past images of missing girls of color without reposting, or refraining from discussing politics or issues that don’t affect me. The key is to be aware of your privilege, engage in conversations with the goal of self education in mind and understand that your thought processes are built upon years of systematic racism. Realize you have internalized years of biases, always question what you are hearing and filter what you are thinking. Attend protests, and most importantly listen to people of color.
GRAPHIC BY MANUELA PEREYRA