With the nation and Daily Kos fully engaged since August 9, 2014 on the issue of white police officers shooting and killing (mostly) men of color and being found Justified in nearly every single case?
I believe it's time for the corollary discussion of White Privilege.
What it is and why it exists and what, if anything, can be done about it.
I'd rather be a woman of color writing this story, truly, because I was thinking that perhaps it might be better said by a woman of color whose life experiences would enable a view about America which I, a 53 year old white woman born and raised in a predominantly white, small American town, simply cannot see.
But then I realized that to reach the people who are the bearers of #WhitePrivilege, maybe it might take someone who was ignorant of that status for most of her 53 years to reach them.
So, here I go...
What exactly is White Privilege, and how do you know if you possess it?
I probably should have written that the other way around, now that I look at that sentence, because the second half of the question? The answer, if you have white skin, is YES. Unquestionably. You are the recipient of #WhitePrivilege
Things you DO NOT have to do, to have #WhitePrivilege:
- Join a club called #WhitePrivilege
- Buy and read a book on #WhitePrivilege
- Take a lesson on #WhitePrivilege
- Order a channel on your cable package called #WhitePrivilege
- Subscribe to #WhitePrivilege magazine
- Buy a TShirt with #WhitePrivilege silkscreened on the front/back
- Use vulgar slurs when referring to people of color
- Believe that persons of color are different than white people
The inconvenient truth is that all that is required for you to be a person with #WhitePrivilege is white skin.
The only way to get it? Inherit it as part and parcel of your being born white in America.
That's it. Nothing special, unless you happen to be born not-white. Then #WhitePrivilege is forever beyond your grasp.
So what exactly IS #WhitePrivilege?
Well, it's not any of the stuff I listed. It's nothing to do with how you act or how much money your family has, or what
sort color your friends are. It is not related to the language you use when talking about or with persons of color.
This is related solely to the color of your skin and how the world treats YOU because of the color of your skin - and in some very important situations, how the world DOESN'T treat you because of the color of your skin.
How the world does treat you, because you were born with white skin?
Listing all the ways I can identify might take until tomorrow, or quite possibly, next week, so let's try and identify some of the more common ones, shall we?
Having #WhitePrivilege means:
- Getting a better mortgage rate and lower mortgage funding fees
- Not getting stopped by the next cop who sees you on the street
- Not getting shot by the next cop who stops you on the street
- Not having to have THE TALK with your children
- Not being followed in stores by security who think you will steal something
- Getting better SAT and college debate scores
- Being accepted by the college of your choice
These things alone are harbingers of what #WhitePrivilege affords those of us born with white skin.
Better treatment, better opportunities, second chances.
Living longer, and I am NOT talking about disease, unless you count white cops shooting black men, which I personally have come to view as a plague upon the American landscape.
Access to better schools, better colleges, better jobs.
Getting hired is twice as likely if you are white.Life is tough all over, so the saying goes.
Debates about the relevance of discrimination in today's society have been difficult to resolve, in part because of the challenges in identifying, measuring, and documenting its presence or absence in all but extreme cases. Discrimination is rarely something that can be observed explicitly.
To address these issues, I recently conducted a series of experiments investigating employment discrimination. In these experiments, which took place in Milwaukee and New York City, I hired young men to pose as job applicants, assigning them resumes with equal levels of education and experience, and sending them to apply for real entry-level job openings all over the city.
Team members also alternated presenting information about a fictitious criminal record (a drug felony), which they “fessed up to” on the application form. During nearly a year of fieldwork, teams of testers audited hundreds of employers, applying for a wide range of entry level jobs such as waiters, sales assistants, laborers, warehouse workers, couriers, and customer service representatives.
The results of these studies were startling. Among those with no criminal record, white applicants were more than twice as likely to receive a callback relative to equally qualified black applicants. Even more troubling, whites with a felony conviction fared just as well, if not better, than a black applicant with a clean background.
But the rising call from persons of color to open the discussion on #WhitePrivilege should be getting your attention. Because life is definitely harder for people of color than it is for people born into #WhitePrivilege.
So having read this far, and if you are a person with white skin, do you see any of that as being relevant to you and your life? Do you see how the mere chance of being born with darker skin can be a barrier beyond your ability to rise above to achieve a dream, to reach a goal, to have a happy and satisfying life?
Are you one of the white Americans like me, who for most of my life rejected the idea of Reparations to black Americans, not only for the harm done their great-great-great-great grandparents, but to them via the expression of #WhitePrivilege in so very many aspects of daily life? Because just a few short years ago, that is exactly who I was.
I grew up in a household with blatant, daily racism built right into the fabric of our lives. My father used epithets and slurs when he talked about the black community in southeast Portland, Oregon which was where he and my mother both worked. Things which made me, as a small child, cringe when I heard them coming from my own father's mouth, because even in the third or fourth grade, I knew that saying those things was wrong. It was just wrong.
But my #WhitePrivilege intervened in the years that followed that upbringing. It lead me to believe things because the world in which I actually lived was opaque to me, in many ways. Probably in large part because there just weren't many people of color where I grew up. One black girl in the first elementary school I attended for kindergarten, who lived on my street. But in first grade we had moved into a home my parents bought and it meant going to a different school. Where there were no children of color.
My junior high years were troublesome and I simply can't recall if there were any black or brown kids there. That alone, since I've had an unusually good memory for most of my life, should tell you something. Apparently, my #WhitePrivilege brain didn't think it was important enough to retain that information. But in my high school there were if I recall correctly (iirc) four black students. Three girls and one boy. My graduating class in 1979 had 545 students in it, and like numbers of grades 11 and 10. 9th grade at that time was part of Junior High.
I played a lot of sports as a kid, too. Girls softball, from grade 4 to my senior year in high school. We played about 10 to 12 other teams during our regular season. My hometown of Vancouver, WA has just over 17,000 residents the year I graduated from high school in 1979. Out of all those girls, in all those teams, the only non-white girls were Hawaiian, whose dad, Frank Kanekoa was the County Sheriff for years here in Clark County and whom I see passed away in 2005.
So out of those 17 thousand plus residents there were few, very few, who were persons of color.
And I believe today that my worldview of persons of color was affected because of that. I spent my 20s telling people that "I am the least racist person you'll meet, because I don't care what color you are, so far as I'm concerned there is only one race - the race to death - and we are ALL in it." I meant it, too. But now, looking back on those years - I never met any black people, so how did I know what the hell I was talking about?
By the time I was in my 30s, nothing much had changed. Except that I had a couple of little girls whose grandma was 1/4 Native American and whose great-grandma was 1/2 Native American. We went each summer to their family reunion at Beacon Rock State Park, located on the Columbia River. I took the girls to visit their (great)Nana Violet each week, where she would tell them stories about their cousins who still lived a more traditional Native American lifestyle in south central Washington State.
By the time I was 40, the population of Clark County had undergone some pretty big changes. There was an ever increasing influx of residents, for over a decade this once small town was in the top towns across America for largest numbers of new residents moving from somewhere else. There were now more black and brown people to be found in the grocery stores and at school functions. There was the beginning of what is today a fairly large Russian emigre population, sponsored in Clark County by Lutheran Church Services. The Latino population was also expanding a lot in those years. But I still didn't have a single friend who wasn't white.
Rolling through my 40s and into my 50s, something happened to me. Well, it happened to all of us. George W Bush and just three years later, Howard Dean. How did these two men, from such diametrically opposed points on the political spectrum have such a large affect on me?
They both, by their actions, turned me from a bystander in life who happened to vote, most years there was an election, even local elections, into someone actively seeking change in my community and Nation. Because I'd always been a big reader and believer in the Constitution and it's promise of a better life for the average Joe or Jane. But when Bush was installed as President by a Supreme Court which looked suspiciously like an arm of the GOP while delivering a finding which said, 'this is it, we're the Deciders and George is the guy - but don't ever ask us to remember this after today, it's a special decision and not to be used ever again'? I started to wake up a bit.
Then along came Howard Dean. A white, really white, guy from a little state, with a family of what appeared to be Republican Wall Street folks, but singing a different tune entirely... and I really woke up.
To things political.
But it wasn't until my first grandchild was born, half of her genes from my almost all Norwegian heritage and her grandfather's Welsh, English and 1/8 Native American heritage combined with her father's family, all Latinos from Mexico, that I truly woke up. I saw the way she was looked at in stores, with me and my daughter (who is as white in appearance as I am), with her acorn brown skin and warm chocolate eyes.
I saw the way that her father was treated by his boss at work, by his neighbors.
I saw the way my son-in-law was treated by the local police a few years ago, when a lunatic white man had a bout of road rage, nearly ran my son-in-law off the road, and then started a physical confrontation with him by swinging at him with a shovel, forcing my son-in-law to try and fend him off with the tire iron behind the seat of his truck. Luckily for my son-in-law, a man who lived where it occurred called the disturbance into the police. Who, when they arrived, put my son-in-law in cuffs and into the back of one of the four squad cars which showed up while the left the ranting white guy out to pace around and yell about being attacked by this "wetback". Why do I say the son-in-law was lucky? Because that man who called the police? He finally came out of his house, told the cops he had called it in, and that they had the wrong man in cuffs.
These past 10 years have colored the way that I see things now. My eyes have been opened for real, by actions of other people toward my family members. But I had never heard of #WhitePrivilege until recently, and by recently I think I mean just the past five or six of years.
I think I can actually pinpoint the moment in my life when I realized that a lot of my preconceptions about modern America began to change, and that was the day I heard about a black professor who was accosted and arrested by a police officer on his own porch stoop, because someone called the police and reported a possible robbery in progress. The professor? That man was Henry Louis Gates a professor at Harvard University. The reason he became a news sensation? Because President Barack Obama decided to make a public statement about a black Professor being the subject of police action because he was black.
And today, as I was researching data to link to, to finish this diary, which as far as I'm concerned may well be the most important thing I've ever written here, THIS is what I find when searching for news articles to link to on the subject "White cops shooting black men".So yes, #WhitePrivilege exists. It's real. Each and every white person who is reading this has been the beneficiary of #WhitePrivilege. It's ingrained into our society as a whole. Even the fucking algorithm which runs the Google search system is apparently infected with the plague of #WhitePrivilege.
And if we Americans who do believe in the promise of the Constitution, that each and every one of us is entitled to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness with equality for all, then it's up to us to do something about #WhitePrivilege.
It's not going to happen overnight. It's been a part of being American from before the Founding of the Republic. It's woven into the fabric of our society, and to unweave that fabric without rending or destroying it as a whole? That's going to take some hard, hard work - and it's going to take the work of one hell of a lot of white people to do it. Because the persons of color don't have a chance in hell of accomplishing this themselves. You know why, don't you?
They know and understand #WhitePrivilege, they recognize that it exists. They live with the consequences of #WhitePrivilege each and every day, in a myriad of ways.
But those of us who are white? We don't, mostly.
So as far as I can see, the bulk of White America has a #WhitePrivilege problem. Like most afflictions, there are ways to treat and manage this one, too.
But the first step to a cure for this plague?
Admitting that you have a problem.
If you are white, go to your mirror. Look yourself in the eye. Think about what I've written here. Think about the past two weeks and #Ferguson and Michael Brown and the other 400 black men shot and killed by white cops in the past five years on the streets of America. About the tens (probably hundreds) of thousands of black Americans dead, disenfranchised and demeaned all because of the color of their skin in the past 230+ years. Tell yourself, "I'm a good person." Because you probably are.
But then, really look, and try and see into your soul. And say the words which can start you and the rest of us, too, onto a journey towards a better America...
I'm a white person in America. I have #WhitePrivilege. I want to CHANGE that."
If you really mean it, you'll feel something, deep inside your heart.
I did. It's why I wrote this.
UPDATE h/t to Barrel of Laughs in the comments:
"Ignorance and Privilege" by John Gorka
Please listen to this, John Gorka groks #WhitePrivilege