The Ugliness of White Privilege

I’m going to be honest with you: I’m probably the wrong person to be writing about this.

I’m a white guy, raised in a middle class household, with two educated parents. All of my aunts and uncles went to college paid for by my grandfather. I am the definition of white privilege.

I grew up not having to deal with the injustice my African-American friends and neighbors had to deal with.

I readily acknowledge that I have no idea what its like to be a black person in America.

What I do know is that for all the things we have going for us as Americans, some of us don’t have the benefit of the same experience that I do as a white man.

So when I see things like what follows below, it makes my blood boil. And it makes me feel like I have to say something. Because even though I know there’s no way I can possibly understand what its like to be black in America, I know this kind of ignorance is wrong.

I won’t stand by and let other people say stuff like this without saying something.

So, here it is.

Wrong on so many levels
Wrong on so many levels

An Ugly Theme

I’m not going to say that Ms. Draper, who owns several businesses, including a well known catering operation in the Mid-South is a racist. I don’t know her. I’m not a Facebook friend of hers.

But what I do know is this statement, and countless others like it that appear on social media and in traditional media are woefully misinformed, and come from a place of blind privilege that casts empathy and understanding by the wayside for simple ‘one size fits all’ solutions that simply don’t exist.

The statement uses this privilege as a wedge to say that if someone else isn’t experiencing the world the same way the statement maker experiences it, its because of something they did (or didn’t do) instead of acknowledging the possibility that there might be a systematic problem in the world that leads to differences in life experience and opportunity.

Zero Sum Thinking

So true
So true
Zero sum thinking is the idea that if one person gets something, you lose something. Like the world is a see-saw, or a limited number of jelly beans.

While this kind of thinking isn’t confined to white people (there are plenty of folks regardless of race who feel that someone getting a promotion, for example, means their opportunities are now limited and have, by extension, lost something) it is exactly the kind of thinking that undergirds privilege.

One of the common complaints, and the response to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is the conservative cry that ‘All Lives Matter’.

By saying ‘Black Lives Matter’, people aren’t saying they matter more than some other group. They’re expressing the reality that Black people have, by and large, been treated as more disposable than people of other races. They are, in effect saying ‘Black Lives Matter too’.

The phrase is designed to get people to recognize that of the 921 people killed by police so far this year in America, 237 of them have been black. 25.7% of all people killed by police have been black. African-Americans make up just 13.2% of the total population. So black people have been killed by police at a rate of nearly 200% as compared to other races.

Hispanics, by contrast, stand at 16.8% of all police killings, which is just under their total population.

‘Black Lives Matter’ is a phrase that seeks to point out this disparity.

Responding to ‘Black Lives Matter’ with ‘All Lives Matter’ ignores the reality of what black people are experiencing in their daily lives.

The truth is, black people experience all kinds of racism all the time. One recent example is that of a Massachusetts college professor who was racially profiled and told his story. That’s just one example of thousands that happen daily.

As Americans, we have to make a conscious decision to be honest with ourselves. We have to acknowledge that some people have more opportunity than others, and that this is antithetical to the notions of equality that we’ve, by and large, blinded ourselves with. We don’t live in a society of equality. But we can work toward equality by using our empathy and understanding to identify with those who have been left behind, and then join with them to demand fairness. That also means not calling people protesting injustice ‘animals’.

Acknowledging injustice is not taking anything away from anyone. That’s adding to the quality of all our lives.

The In-Justice System

Another mis-statement is the idea that we’re a nation of laws and those laws are applied equally.

Racial profiling is a thing…even though lots of folks like to pretend it isn’t.

At my previous job, one of my co-workers was stopped on his way to work every night for weeks even though he wasn’t speeding or breaking any traffic laws.

He wasn’t given a ticket. He wasn’t given a reason. He was being stopped because he was a black man driving a ‘too nice’ car at 3:30am on his way to a 4am shift.

That’s the reality we live in. He was stopped by police officers, black and white, because he was black man out in the early morning hours of a weeknight and because of this, he must be up to no good.

I was never stopped once in the three years I worked there, even though I had the same hours, and regularly broke traffic laws in the sight of police. Some people might say I was lucky or he is unlucky. I don’t believe that. This is the definition of systemic racism…

Its easy to assume that, because a car is stopped, or a police officer is talking to someone, that they’ve done something wrong. We do this all the time. The media reinforces it continuously. But in doing this, we also ignore that not just in Memphis, but in America, black people are targeted based on their race. It is the nature of stop and frisk policing techniques and many others.

So while it may be true to say ‘we are a nation of laws, and a legal system’, it is also true to say those laws, and that legal system is in no way applied equally.

Failing to acknowledge this is willful ignorance.

Back to the point

Having said all this, let’s get back to Ms. Draper’s statement.

I think we all know Ms. Draper isn’t alone in her sentiment. There are likely hundreds, if not thousands of people here in the Mid-South that feel the same way she does. They just didn’t say it in a public forum.

Over the past several months I’ve encountered people who feel this same way. What I’ve found is that arguing with them goes nowhere. Even trying to have a polite conversation about it usually devolves into these old tired tropes that are demonstrably untrue, but despite showing how untrue they are, the individuals still cling to them like a security blanket.

So maybe I don’t know how to present this in a way that’s constructive. Maybe nothing I could say would get them to release that security blanket of misinformation.

But I would hope that someone out there would reach out to Ms. Draper, from a place of friendship, and let her know how hurtful her words are and how misinformed she is.

I know that without some kind of dialogue from someone she knows and trusts, there’s no chance she’ll ever see the error in her thinking. And while some people might look at this as a form of public shaming, I think its important to take people’s word for it when they reveal themselves to us.

I hope Ms. Draper, and other folks who hold this same belief system will take this opportunity to learn and grow. Because that’s how we get to the kind of world she thinks we have right now.

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