As a white man born in the second half of the last century writing this, I initially think that it’s wrong of me to latch on to the pain of others during this time. But then I realize that many of us of us of all colors are in pain due to recent events.
I can continue to make attempts to gain perspective and express alliance. Still, I’m well aware that I will never truly understand what it’s like to stand in the shoes of those who live in them everyday, and I cannot pretend to.
America was “discovered,” created and stolen from others, piecemeal, by undocumented immigrants. It was built on the backs of indigenous populations, slavery, sharecroppers, immigrants, indentured servitude, and child labor, all of which created generations of wealthy institutions and families, many of which continue to this day.
As news of the murders of our brothers and sisters has grown to become as common as background noise during dinner for some — or a dose of reality ruining football games or cable news for others — it has continually maintained the attention of the majority of good people of all colors who haven’t buried their heads in the sand.
In one form or another, this has been going on for centuries. There aren’t necessarily more of these murders of Black people than there were last century, there are simply more cameras to reveal them to us.
The terms ‘white privilege’ and ‘black lives matter’ can offend or confuse many white people, who need to be provided with the meanings of those terms. The terms on their own are not informative, so take a moment and consider that responses to the terms can simply be a result of unawareness, intentional or otherwise. This lack of understanding cannot be ignored. Responses to those unaware or uninformed people should be respectful ones which will attempt to inform them. If they get up and leave, at least you tried.
What I can speak to is my own experience as a white man of privilege, and to some degree entitlement.
No white person should feel offended by the term white privilege. The term doesn’t mean that you and your ancestors may not have worked your asses off to get where you are, or that your life may not still be difficult to this day. Nor does it mean that you don’t deserve what you’ve earned. It simply means that your skin color just wasn’t one of the factors making your life even that more difficult. It’s difficult to disagree that it is an extremely challenging factor.
In recent years, people in densely populated areas are now interacting with people they may have spent their entire life avoiding or having no knowledge or understanding of. Many whites feel like strangers in a strange land, and the discomfort is revealing their biases and prejudices — which each of us possess — literally shaking them from the comfort zone they’ve known since birth.
Many with white privilege grew up at a time where the typical blue collar salary could still allow a family to own a home and put a kid or two through college. These days, it’s often impossible for households with two working, college-educated parents to achieve those things. Still, we hear others reminisce about a time before “things changed,” allowing themselves to believe that they are down on their luck only because of the other, whether that be the brown person “trying to steal their job,” immigrant bringing crime to their peaceful neighborhood, or the “over-educated” Human Resources person who is to blame for their awful health insurance plan.
All of this has placed us in the “now.” Now is a time when many white people without a higher education or any special knowledge, skills or talents still feel that they deserve to be living comfortably in the middle class as their parents were able to do. Meanwhile, in the last forty years, none of our leaders have done what was necessary to take us from a manufacturing economy and prepare workers for the technology-driven one. Typing that reminds me that in the late-80’s and early 90’s many school districts in the Mahoning Valley and its surrounding “Rust Belt” opted to maintain or increase the budget levels for football and athletics at the same exact time that we should have been flipping the switch to a technology, telecom, and data-driven economy.
‘WP’ is the fact that the Bundy family took over a piece of federal land, armed with assault weapons, burned the property to the ground, and were not shot and killed while doing so. They were later pardoned for the crimes, and flown home in private jet of an oil industry millionaire. (Actually, that’s beyond white privilege. I don’t know exactly what the fuck that is.)
Are you a quiet, decent, non-racist conservative white person who like low taxes, but doesn’t want to “make waves?” If that is all that you are, that is quite simply not nearly enough; nowhere near enough.
You must take the path where you begin to call out white privilege and white supremacy when you see it — in-person, online, and at your workplace — calling attention to and influencing how inequities are addressed.
For centuries, far too many Americans have been looking the other way and doing what was convenient, not wanting to sound like the “squeaky wheel” along the path. Yesterday’s incalculable loss of Rep. John Lewis reminds us both of the progress that has been made, as well as the fact that we still have miles to go to reach the end of that path.
“You must find a way to get in the way.
”You must find a way to get into good trouble. Necessary trouble.
”You have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate to go out and seek justice for all…
”You can do it. You must do it.”
— Rep. John Lewis (1940–2020)