“Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s being recorded.”
Sandra Bland (traffic violation); Eric Garner (selling cigarettes); Alton Sterling (selling CDs); Botham Jean (eating ice cream at home); Breonna Taylor (being at home); Ahmaud Arbery (jogging); Tamir Rice (playing as a child); Trayvon Martin (walking home); countless others
... and now, George Floyd. All of these black men and women were killed either in police custody, or by off duty/retired law enforcement. When news like this hits, I hear one phrase more often than anything else: “Why is this being turned into a race issue?” The simple answer is — it already was a race issue, we’re just treating it as such.
When the term “white privilege” gets brought up, it is often shot down with the following reason: “I’m white and I have lived a hard life.” To clarify, “white privilege” does not mean that you will have an easy life because of your skin tone. It means that your skin tone will not be the thing that holds you back.
What are some examples of white privilege? For starters, studies show that people of color who “whiten” their resumes (changing their name to a more “white” sounding name, changing their ethnicities, etc) are more than twice as likely to get a call back. Another example is when a makeup brand has a total of 20 shades and 15 of them are lighter shades while only five shades cater to darker skinned people.
When you are able to go for a walk in your neighborhood free of fear of being racially profiled, you are benefiting from white privilege. When you walk down the street and someone doesn’t cross to the other side of the road out of fear of you, you are benefiting from white privilege. When you are not killed for failure to signal a lane shift, selling cigarettes, selling CDs, eating ice cream at home, being at home, jogging, playing as a child or walking home, you are benefiting from white privilege.
If a video of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man until he dies is less infuriating to you than Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of that exact act, then you are a part of the problem.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s biggest grievance during the civil rights movement was not that of the white supremacist. It was the behavior people who prefer the status quo. In his Letter From Birmingham Jail, King wrote “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice ... who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”
I feel the need to reiterate this point: having white privilege does not mean that you will not struggle. It does not mean that you haven’t struggled. It does not invalidate the lifetime of struggling that you may have endured. It is separate from your socioeconomic level. It is separate from your upbringing. It means that your white skin will not be your stumbling block.
If you choose to turn a blind eye to racism in America, that is proof of your privilege, because some people do not have the privilege to pretend it doesn’t exist. At this point, to deny your white privilege is ignorant and regressive. We can do better and we have to do better. America was never “great,” but it can be.