We are a people of offense. We are offended by Donald Trump’s racist and sexist rhetoric. We are offended by Hillary Clinton’s evasion of the law. We are offended by television and music and opinion and weather and laughter and sadness and humanity, in general.
If you are a white American, no doubt you’ve heard the term “white privilege” of late in volumes you might consider ad nauseam. And if you are a white American, and you are living and filled with blood and rely on the presence of oxygen to survive, you’ve no doubt been offended by it. I would wager you are currently offended by it. You are discomfited by it. You don’t like it. You are angry about it.
If that is you, allow me to say this: you should be.
You probably don’t actively hate or even dislike black people. You would probably even say you love black people. You probably have a black friend. You probably thanked a black person for holding the door at the bank for you that one time and meant it. That’s wonderful.
You’ve never owned slaves. You’ve never whipped, lynched, beaten or killed. You’ve probably never called a black person “the n word” or witnessed a black family being asked to leave a restaurant. Wonderful.
You’re not racist. But you are privileged, whether you asked for it or not. It feels like a slur. It feels like an accusation. It feels gross and mean and wrong and offensive. And once you acknowledge it, you can’t be silent about it.
So, let’s talk about white privilege. Let’s get offended for a minute to have a discussion about our privilege and how it affects these black people we don’t consciously hate and possibly even “love”.
White privilege is a social relation granting or exempting white people conditions non-whites are not given access to. From Wikipedia: “…whites in Western societies enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience, as ‘an invisible package of unearned assets’. White privilege denotes both obvious and less obvious passive advantages that white people may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. The effects can be seen in professional, educational, and personal contexts. The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.“
While white privilege can run a wide gamut, I want to address one facet specifically, and it is this: “These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play and speak freely.”
We are offended by Black Lives Matter. This is evident in the many All Lives Matter retorts. Can I offer an explanation of why that is? It is offensive to us because it makes us feel guilty and afraid and those emotions don’t feel so good. We feel guilty because, in hearing Black Lives Matter, we feel accused of thinking they don’t matter. And if we don’t think they matter, then we are racist. And no one wants to be accused of racism. We feel afraid because, in hearing Black Lives Matter, we think our “mattering” is being threatened. We feel like we are being forced to sacrifice something. To give something that is and has always been ours. That we are being asked to give some of our privilege away.
Here’s my challenge: give it away. Give it. All. Away.
Let me tell you something about “mattering”. There is an infinite supply of “mattering”. It’s not ONLY Black Lives Matter. It’s not Black Lives Matter Above All Others. Black people are not running around trying to snatch up all the earth’s “mattering”. “Mattering” is not a limited number of Pokemon and no one is going to catch ’em all. Black Lives Matter means hear me. See me. Value me. Remember that I was once legally consider three-fifths of a human being in this very country. Protect me. Humanize me. Let me live and move and buy and work and play and speak freely like you. Don’t fear me. Don’t call me a thug. Don’t call me an animal. Don’t villainize me.
Think of Michael Brown as your son. Think of Trayvon Martin as your son. Think of Alton Sterling as your dad. Think of Philando Castile as your dad. Think of Sandra Bland as your sister. Do it for a minute because that is what the black community does everyday. As white Americans, we don’t carry the generational impacts of slavery. We have not carried the dehumanization of segregation or being ripped from our families and sold or being used for breeding like an animal. We have not had to come together as a race. We don’t find much identity in our race as white people because we don’t have to. We are the norm. We are the standard. We are the definition. Nude means white skin. Flesh-toned means white skin. When Tom Brady makes a great pass, a young white kid talks about how great he is and how much he loves football. When LeBron James dunks on someone, a young black kid sees him and thinks Look at what he’s become. He’s the son of a single mother and he’s become great. Maybe I could be great. What happens to one impacts all. What was possible for one becomes possible for all. What is felt by one is felt by all. That is something we don’t understand as white Americans. That Trayvon was the son of over 40 million Americans. Philando was the father of over 40 million Americans. Sandra was the sister of over 40 million Americans. And the absence of that kind of grief is privilege.
I’m not asking you to not be offended when you see Black Lives Matter or the term white privilege. White privilege is offensive to its core. Get offended. Get uncomfortable. Get mad. Hate it. Because it’s real. It’s the history of white America. Now, take a minute, take a deep breath (or twenty), and channel into change. Channel those ugly feelings into something that promotes equality. White privilege is our past, but we can give our children a different future.
I am learning as I type. I have always considered myself to be a friend to black people. An ally. But through listening and watching and getting uncomfortable, I’ve realized that I haven’t been an ally at all. I’ve been cold and a lover of stereotypes and offended and so wrapped in my own America that the mention of an alternative America has filled me with anger and the disregard of the feelings and experiences of over 40 million Americans. So, I listen. I watch. I read. I learn. And to other whites, I speak.
So, you’re privileged. I’m privileged. We’re privileged. Now what. Here are some things that I have been doing in my quest to learn that I’ve found helpful:
- Follow black people on social media. Black authors, black news sites, black figures, black authorities, black activists. Black. People. Read what they write. Listen to their audio recordings. Listen. Read. Watch. Don’t speak. Just listen. Suggestions: A.C. Thomas, @acthomaswrites on Twitter. She is a young, black author that recently made history in a massive 13-way publishing house battle for her book THE HATE U GIVE, a Black Lives Matter-inspired Young Adult novel. The movies rights have been sold and Amandla Stenberg is slated to play the main character. She is vocal against injustices of all kinds and is a genuinely great person. Also on Twitter, @BlackGirlNerds shares poignant and insightful thoughts, as well as a healthy heap of comic, graphic novel, and general “nerd” info. Jason Chestnut, though white, speaks openly about white privilege and other social issues. He is on Twitter as @crazypastor.
- Change your speech. “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Luke 6:45. The heart takes a while, but even though it’s tough, you can put a reign on your tongue. Don’t make jokes at the expense of black people (or other cultures/races/sexualities, for that matter). Don’t call black protesters animals. Don’t say sarcastically, “Oh, that’s right. We owe them” or roll your eyes any time you hear/say “reparations” (okay, okay, eye-rolling isn’t technically speech but it sure communicates effectively!). Stop saying All Lives Matter. We know this. Say things that bring life. Say things that exalt. Say things that build. If you feel you can’t, say nothing until you can.
- Hunger for justice. For the police. For black America. Keep in mind that illegally carrying a firearm does not constitute death. Keep in mind that having a prior criminal record does not warrant death. Keep in mind that an officer of the law is accountable as we are. When a black man is killed, feel. Don’t justify. Don’t rationalize. Feel. Cry. Pray. In every situation, whatever justice is, hunger for that. Cry out for that. And while you wait for it, feel. Cry. Pray. Love.
- Keep your critique of black culture and its “problems” to yourself. You know how your siblings used to (maybe still) drive you insane and you’d call them names/lock them in closets/duct tape them to chairs (no? Just me?)? But then the second someone outside of the family attacks your sibling, verbally or otherwise, your blood boils with a fiery rage and you rise up in defense like a praised Roman soldier in a chariot of fire to lay waste to the fool that would dare insult your blood? Okay. So. Consider the black community that, as I have mentioned, identifies as a unit. Let’s think of the black community as a household. A family. A family has their struggles within the household, right? A family can have rogue cousins and mouthy uncles and a son or daughter with a drug problem, right? The family is aware of the issues in the house. Grandmama Betty knows Uncle Bill is an alcoholic. Cousin Agatha knows her niece April has a gambling problem. They know. They not okay with it. They can’t control their relatives, but they are aware and they love them and they are doing what they can to help them. Now, imagine if Rando Neighbor Guy comes into Grandmama Betty’s household and starts rattling off their problems. Rando Neighbor Guy doesn’t know them. He doesn’t know their history. He’s never invited them to dinner. He’s never been to their kids’ soccer games. But Rando Neighbor Guy comes in and lists their family issues and what they need to do to rectify the situations. What do you think the response will be? I can tell you if it were me, Rando Neighbor Guy would suddenly grow a tail, which would be immediately thrust between his legs as he ran from my home in shame. In the wake of these killings, I’ve read/heard/seen a lot of “What about black-on-black crime?” and “Blacks need to address the violence in their own communities first.” What about black-on-black crime? Beside the fact that that has literally not one thing to do with a non-black officer killing a black man, you can’t help what you have no understanding of. Before we pull a Rando Neighbor Guy, let’s know people. Let’s learn their history. Let’s literally invite them to dinner. Let’s go to their kids’ games. Let’s invite them to ours. Let’s foster real, human relationships. And let’s keep our critiques to ourselves. Better still, let’s stop critiquing.
- Don’t let racism slide. I’m not saying we should become language police and put a muzzle on the world (although…). I’m also not saying it won’t possibly be a little awkward. What I am saying is in our changing our speech, maybe we can influence others to do the same. If you have a friend or relative that refers to other races with slurs, tell them you don’t like it. You don’t have to be a turd about it. Just a simple, “Hey, man. I don’t like that term” will do. If the offender gives you a hard time, you can just say, “I’d rather you not use the term around me.” And if they still want to fight, you may have to get real and stand your ground. “Don’t say that to me or I’m going to have to excuse myself.” Don’t argue. Don’t belittle. Don’t insult or raise your voice or stoop low. Be kind, be gentle, be firm, and in all things, to all people, show respect and love.
I also came across this article today and found it helpful.
That’s it. Privilege is real. Real people feel lesser. Let’s stop letting offense reign. Let’s stop defending ourselves. Let’s learn. Let’s let people speak. Let’s listen.