I did not grow up in what I would call “White privilege.” I grew up in Columbus, Ohio in an ‘average’ low to a middle-class White neighborhood. I was bussed to inner-city schools in predominantly Black communities as part of the desegregation programs, and fellow Black children were bused to schools in my home area. Later I would go to high school with most of those children along with many of the children I went to school with.
As I started off – I did not grow up in what I would call “White privilege”. But here is the problem. What I consider White privilege and what my fellow Black classmates would consider White privilege most likely are two very different things. I never understood that until recently. It took me forty years to understand this because I wear my White privilege on my body. I was born with it. I can do nothing to remove it, and because of this, I have been blind to it.
As a White person, growing up I was taught to see no color, to blur the lines between black and white, that there is no race. This is known as ‘non-racist’. We, as white kids, embraced our Air Jordan’s, Rap music, and Thug Life but this isn’t understanding what it means to be Black, it’s simply appropriating some of Black culture to seem cool. The moment it is no longer cool, we discard it. But what we (as Whites) have been unable or unwilling to accept up until recently is that we cannot understand what it means to be Black unless we have lived in the shoes of a Black man.
Unless we have walked down the street and been looked at differently merely because of our skin. Unless we have been stopped for a routine traffic stop and gone through the heart-shattering panic of how that traffic stop might go down. Or until we have been automatically assumed guilty simply because of the color of our skin. We, as White people, can never understand what it means to be Black and we must accept this.
What we must do is make changes. In ourselves, and in others. White privilege is a real thing. But it is incumbent on us, as White people, to do something with that privilege that doesn’t serve just ourselves.
I was raised to be non-racist, and I understand now that this is the wrong perspective. Do not be non-racist. Be anti-racist.
- Non-racist is passive, to say that you don’t see race. To say that we are all equal and skin color doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that non-racism is a bad thing. It is not a bad thing and ultimately that is something we should move to achieve. But right now, we need anti-racism.
- Anti-racism is active, to choose to take action against wrongs that are being done currently. To help to change the perspectives of those around us. It is also a much harder thing to do. Changing laws, changing views, changing people. Change doesn’t come easy, but if we work together we can make a difference.
As White people, we are in a unique place. We can stand beside our brothers and sisters and ensure that they are treated with the respect and dignity they so rightly deserve. That they have earned. They have fought for centuries through the crap and through the glory that has made this country, and we need to stand along-side them. Not as hate-filled bigots, but as Whites and Blacks that will stand for no more racism. Angry, yes, but not hate-filled. We need to ensure that Blacks are treated equally to Whites and will help ALL our children, Black and White, to know a world where there is harmony and unity for all races. Where all children can be pulled over for speeding and not be afraid to talk to the police. Where our cultural differences unite us, not divide us. Where we can see the beauty and pride of being Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian, and be proud of our differences, not ashamed or afraid. There are of course many of us Black and White that have great chasms to bridge and sadly it may mean the end of entire generations before we will truly see the monumental changes we are hoping for. But it all starts somewhere. Right here. Right now. With us.
We as Whites need to make sure that we are not just ‘spewing words’ (me included).
- Talk to your local government.
- Make sure that there is training put in place to ensure that law enforcement has anti-racism training.
- Check your local laws (all of them) and help to make changes that do not discriminate based on race.
- Be aware of mistreatment based on race, if you see it happening, do not stand idle. Speak out.
- Truth begins around the dinner table. Talk to your kids, teach them that White privilege is a real thing and that it should not be self-serving.
- Fear – Fear that everything we have been taught may be a lie. Always question everything. Ask yourself if it makes sense and if you would want to be treated the way that person is being treated.
- Act – If someone is being mistreated. Don’t just stand by and watch. Say something. Do something. Record something. Post something. Help change something. Only if we make our voice heard will change move forward.
What opened my eyes?
For everyone, there is an eye-opening moment I suppose. Yes, I was appalled by George Floyd, but it didn’t hit home as maybe it should have. And there have been several other moments that maybe should have flipped my switch. For me, it was last night on my son’s fourteenth birthday. He asked me to watch “The Hate U Give”. I watched the trailer and thought, sure – why not. I watched it, and I was so moved, and it completely opened my eyes as to how blind I’ve been on multiple levels. There was a poignant moment when a ten-year-old stood defending his father and I was floored. I am intimately familiar with black culture, but I did not truly think about what it means to be black. I’m glad I do now. Let us change this, together.