What can I do? What can I do? How can I help make it stop? How can I help MAKE. IT. STOP?
Another unarmed black man has died at the hands of another white person (in this case, a police officer) under circumstances that no one can really explain. Even when some official narrative becomes available (if it ever does), it will never resolve the very troubling question of how and why this keeps happening. This keeps happening again. And again. And again.
And I want to help make it stop. As a white woman, how do I help make it stop?
There is a long list of things I know I can do to help. There are all kinds of blogs and columns flying around the internet right now about the things that white people can do to help. And I’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot of hard work.
But I’m going to start with me. I’m going to start by checking my privilege. I think all the time about how fucking lucky I am to be white, about all the things I don’t have to worry about because I’m white, about all the energy I have to focus on other things because I don’t have to think about being white. But it’s not enough for me to just sit around and think about this. I have to openly admit it, confront it, challenge it, and talk about it with other white people. And I have to do it again and again and again. Just like a black person has to think every day about being black, I have to think every day about what it means not to have to think about being white.
This isn’t a novel approach. I’m not being bold or brave or new. Nor is checking my privilege by writing about it on a blog even a drop in the bucket of what it means and what it takes to challenge racism. But in order to effectively challenge the systemic racial oppression of black people, I first have to openly acknowledge all the ways in which I benefit from that systemic oppression.
In no particular order, here is a list of privileges I enjoy that result simply from the ridiculous good luck afforded to me by having been born white (and this list doesn’t even touch all the other sources of privilege in my life: being born American, being born into relative wealth, being born heterosexual, having Anglo-Saxon heritage, having no physical disabilities, having genes that make it easier for me to maintain a relatively normal weight–I could go on and on, and all of these are in some way no more than sheer accidents of my birth):
- I have been pulled over by cops twice in the 22 years that I have been driving, both times for speeding. Both times I got a ticket and went on my way. I have never otherwise been approached by a police officer in my life.
- I will never have to explain to my children why it is so incredibly important for them to act not only respectful but downright submissive in any encounter with law enforcement.
- If one of my children ever disappears, there is a significantly greater likelihood that their disappearance will become a national media story.
- No one has ever followed me around in a retail store.
- For all but two of the jobs I have ever applied for in my life, the person doing the hiring was the same color as me.
- Almost all of the dolls and toys that my children see in stores are the same color as they are.
- If my children misbehave in preschool or school, they are less likely to suffer severe disciplinary consequences.
- No one has ever assumed that I got to a particular position because of my race.
- And yet in many cases, I probably have gotten to a particular position because of my race–it is generally safe for me to assume that if I work hard, I can achieve pretty much anything I want to. Not only will my race not be an obstacle–it will be an advantage, and hardly anyone will object to that advantage.
- I don’t have to worry that a particular article of clothing in my closet might make me appear threatening.
- If I ever found myself in need of public assistance (as members of my family have), no one will attribute it to the mere fact of my race.
- My children don’t need a “History Month” specifically for people of their race, because history as it is taught reflects mainly the contributions of their own race, regardless of how ahistorical that approach is.
- Anytime I turn on the television or open a newspaper, people of my race are everywhere, in the highest positions of power in every industry.
- I don’t have to think about the fact that I am white. As a matter of fact, if I wanted to, I could basically ignore the fact that racism exists, and it would make very little difference in my daily life.
- Related to #2, but for me, as a mother, probably the most important item on this list, I will never have to say goodbye to my children in the morning and wonder, even though I’ve told them to be respectful and submissive not only to cops but to any white person who acts aggressively toward them, whether I will end up like Michael Brown’s mother, crying over my child’s body lying in the street.
These are just drops in the giant, rushing, undeserved waterfall of privileges that have poured over my head since the day I emerged from my mother’s body, white and screaming.
These are just the drops I could come up with in a short session of scribbling.
These don’t even touch the hundreds of tiny ways that my white skin parts the waters before me everywhere I go.
White friends, join me in checking our white privilege, will you? Share in the comments here your thoughts about how being white has made your life easier, how it makes your life easier every day. The more conscious I become of all the ways I benefit from institutionalized racism, the better advocate I can be to challenge it.