Understanding the current incidents of racism in our country has been a struggle. President Trump has become a beacon, shining a light on marginalized groups everywhere. Whether he is talking about women, Mexicans, Muslims, blacks, gays, or the handicapped, his words and actions make you question if he is simply careless, oblivious, or outright prejudiced. Whatever the case, it doesn’t change the fact that white people in the United States have privilege. We didn’t ask for it and we may not even want it, but nonetheless, it exists. White people, particularly white males, have been granted certain advantages other people don’t have. Whether you believe it or not, this is reality. I believe this administration is sending clear signals that it won’t be taking care of the underprivileged. Therefore, it is up to courageous citizens in more privileged groups to step forward and protect the human rights of others. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “None of us is free until all of us are free.”
It seems people are finally waking up. As I read the reports of two black men being arrested in Starbucks (https://tinyurl.com/y7dv3yln), the black teenager in Detroit shot at for asking directions to his school (https://tinyurl.com/y8dt56zk), and the black women told to leave the golf course (https://tinyurl.com/y7zynsmw), white people interviewed were shocked these incidents could happen in 2018, yet not one person of color is surprised. This is the reality of their life every day, including the obliviousness of much of White America to the racial injustices that are not a thing of the past as they want to believe. Just because there was a civil rights movement in the sixties, some equal opportunities laws passed, and a black president elected—not once but twice—doesn’t mean incidents of inequity have been eradicated.
There are so many incidents of law enforcement using excessive force resulting in the sometimes lethal mistreatment of several black people: Rodney King https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_King), LaTasha Hardins (https://tinyurl.com/ya3dbpj6), Trayvon Martin (https://tinyurl.com/nzxcrgg), Walter Scott (https://tinyurl.com/y8ompjhs), Tawon Boyd (https://tinyurl.com/y8wxzv37), the Chicago police officer sentenced to five years for firing his weapon into a car of black teenagers posing no threat (https://tinyurl.com/ycjky2a3), DeAndre Harris (https://tinyurl.com/y9sjlr3o), Philando Castile (https://tinyurl.com/yd588kyc), Lanette Craig and her daughters (https://tinyurl.com/ychro4ey), Stephon Clark (https://tinyurl.com/y8v932c2), and Marlin Gipson (https://tinyurl.com/yd2o6mhf). (Please forgive any omissions to this list. Unfortunately, there are so many, it is difficult to name all the victims.) Many of these police officers went unpunished for their behavior. It’s important to note that violent white men like Travis Reinking who shot up a Waffle House killing four people in April, Nikolas Cruz who killed seventeen students in Parkland, FL, and Dylann Roof who shot up the church in Charleston all made it into police custody alive, safe, and unharmed.
And thus, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” was born. Taking offense to this phrase, white people responded with the words, “All lives matter and blue lives matter.” These counter slogans demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Black American experience while asserting white privilege. White men are not being gunned down in the streets or their grandmother’s backyards! This was happening to black men. White people will sight the fact that people of color are more often violent criminals with high rates of incarceration, so the reason police must be extremely vigilant when confronting a person of color. They don’t seem to consider the possibility that the reason prisons are full of people of color is because they are disproportionally arrested, tried, and convicted compared to their white counterparts.
Even if you believe people of color commit more crime, have you considered there is a huge discrepancy between incomes of white, black, and Latino people in the workforce? Is it possible white privilege accounts for this issue as well? If a black person and a white person apply for a higher-paying job where a white person is in charge, who do you think is most likely to get the job?
I am not asking anyone reading this article to do anything out of the ordinary. I’m simply asking you to be an advocate for fairness and justice when you observe the opposite. Like in this article, https://tinyurl.com/yby8m8f2, when police where arresting black teens for causing problems on a subway (they were listening to their music) and attempted to arrest a boy that had nothing to do with the incident, a white woman stood up to the arresting officer and said that that boy was not part of the group. It doesn’t take much, just an understanding that the boy couldn’t stand up for himself to police officers without supporting the stereotype of being uncooperative. This is where the privileged must step in.
When my black male friend and I were both shopping in a Walmart, we each went through the checkout line with our separate purchases. We both paid with our own credit cards, and the checker asked him for identification but did not ask me. I questioned why she did that. When I was driving a truck on an interstate and was pulled over for speeding, I couldn’t understand why my large, dark-skinned male friend became palpably upset and sat still as a statue. It was his truck, by the way. I rolled my window down and was asked for license and registration. I simply leaned over opened the glove box for the registration and rummaged through my purse for my license without a care. When I was asked to exit the vehicle, I was quite surprised because that had never happened to me before despite the many times I have received speeding tickets. Once I had exited the vehicle, the officer asked if I was all right. I was quite taken aback because I had never given any indication of distress to him. He let me go on my way.
When I returned to the vehicle, my friend said, “Don’t you know about ten and two?” I said, “Ten and two, what’s that?” He went on to explain that any black male raised in the US had likely been taught to keep their hands firmly on the steering wheel at the ten and two position when stopped by police. Furthermore, they should never reach for anything in the car without receiving permission first. I had never heard that before, nor had I taught that to my children. When I shared this story with other white women, they said, “But aren’t you glad he did that? What if you really were in trouble?” I can understand them saying that because they have never lived as a black person. I gave no indication I was in distress and the only reason he asked me to leave the vehicle is because I was traveling with a black man. I wouldn’t have had the same consideration if he had been white.
That is when it hit me. I had privilege in that situation. I didn’t have to worry about ten and two, nor did my children. I taught my white, male children that the police would help them if they were ever in a bind and I wasn’t around. Black children are generally taught to avoid police because they might be killed by them; this is the reality in the United States in 2018! No one having a shred of decency wants it to be this way. No one is happy about this, but it is the way it is. Having white privilege does not make you racist. It is a function of a system that has used and oppressed people for a very long time.
People of color can’t speak out against the system because those with privilege can go through life without having to ever consider their reality. It is easy for white people to deny the reality of people of color because it is too difficult for us to believe it’s happening today, when we feel we’ve come so far from this country’s terrible beginnings.
When Trump coined the phrase “chain immigration” in referring to one person gaining access to our country and then bringing all their relatives over after that, the African-American community was upset. African-Americans were concerned because their relatives immigrated to this country in actual chains! The president was dismissive; his white-privileged response was to simply say that isn’t what he meant while he continued using his ‘clever’ phrase. White privilege allows us to discount the feeling of marginalized people because our intent was not to demean.
What can be done about a racist system? We must pay attention to inequity, and when you see it, speak up. It may not be comfortable, you could lose friendships, you may be attacked, but as a member of the majority culture who is concerned about inequity, you need to point it out whenever you see it, so others can see it too. I’m not asking for you to become mean, angry, or aggressive, but to simply state what you see and ask questions about it. Think of it as bringing awareness to the person who is doing it, as it may be subconscious, and as a notice to others who do it purposefully that they can’t get away with those things anymore.
Why can’t marginalized people just stand up for themselves? Why do you have to do it? First of all, you don’t have to. You can choose to be the silent bystander or stick your head in the sand pretending nothing is wrong. Those are choices. The reason marginalized people can’t stand up for themselves is because when they do, they get labelled as ‘angry,’ ‘over-sensitive’ or a person with a ‘chip’ on their shoulder. Their point of view is downplayed and often ignored.
Remember Edmund Burk’s quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It is up to the silent bystanders to play a role. First, we must recognize inequity and then we have to point it out.