I Know I’m Privileged


NaBloPoMo14DayTwentyFiveI read a tweet last night, one of many associated with the #Ferguson verdict that went something like this: “”White Privilege’ is hearing the verdict and being outraged by it, rather than being terrified by it.”* This is, quite possibly, the best definition of white privilege that I’ve ever heard.

It is my prerogative to feel outraged (or not). This verdict (and others like it) does not change my life at all. It does not, for example, alter the way in which I interact with law enforcement officers or members of my community.

I can sit here and be outraged. That is certainly my prerogative. Or, I can do nothing. That, too, is my prerogative. Because I am white.

I am not in possession of all of the facts surrounding this case. I will not be rendering my own “verdict” here. What I do know for sure, though, is that Michael Brown’s death has had an effect on many people and brought to the forefront the role of law enforcement in the Black community.

And I do mean the Black community as a whole, not just the folks living in Ferguson, Missouri. Since the incident in Ferguson I have heard many, many stories from black people about how they have been and/or still are treated by police officers in what amounts to my own backyard.

I am not a naïve person, but I was a bit taken aback when they started to regale me with their stories about their frequent run-ins with the law. Truthfully, I was slightly uncomfortable with these conversations, as well — being a white person and all. Because these people are my co-workers and my friends, though, I listened. I felt I owed them at least that, my own discomfort notwithstanding.

What struck me most after hearing story after story after story — many of them involving being pulled over for what they termed “DWB” (Driving While Black) — was how these people, my friends and co-workers, just accept it as a fact of their existence. That made me sad. And angry. And a little embarrassed about the color of my own skin.

I don’t want to be embarrassed by the color of my skin. I want to be able to enter into a respectful dialogue with people whose skin tone is different than my own. My friends, thankfully, indulged me my questions and shared their experiences with me.

They didn’t roll their eyes at me. They didn’t get angry with me. We had several very enlightening conversations. I learned a great deal.

One of the things I learned is that I’ve had my blinders on for quite some time. I live in a place where I thought relations between white people and black people had moved forward. After speaking openly about it, I still think they have, just not enough.

Possibly the most important lesson that I learned is that this issue is not really about my relationship with a co-worker or a neighbor. It’s about changing the zeitgeist of law enforcement. I’d like to think some of the institutional racism that exists is generational, but given the fact that the police officer in the Ferguson case was a young man, that hypothesis doesn’t hold water. And, even if it did, that’s not an excuse.

I think it’s admirable for people to preach a peaceful coexistence. I do. I just wonder how, exactly, folks are supposed to peacefully coexist when so many of our black communities are treated like war zones. I have to wonder if the citizens living in some of these neighborhoods don’t feel like POWs. I think that’s how I would feel.

I would argue that there are ways to enforce laws without shooting people. I think that would be a pretty good start. What happened to tazers, anyway? And, if one must use a gun to subdue a perpetrator, why shoot to kill? It would seem to me that we are arming soldiers, rather than training peacekeepers.

I don’t know. Perhaps I AM naïve. I just can’t help but think that progress is incremental and that when an incident occurs, like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, we all take two steps back. Regardless of the color of our skin, I would like to think that we would all like to move forward.

I know that I’m privileged, though — privileged enough to be sitting here confident in the knowledge that when I leave my house or when I send my family out into the world I don’t have to worry that a traffic stop might end in tragedy. I know I’m privileged. Oddly enough, this is not a good feeling.


* This was tweeted by @ColleenLindsay: “Truest thing I’ve heard all night:’White privilege is the ability to be outraged by the #Ferguson decision, rather than terrified by it.'” (I’m not certain where she “heard” it.)

28 thoughts on “I Know I’m Privileged

  1. Momina Asif says:

    “That made me sad. And angry. And a little embarrassed about the color of my own skin.” That is how we should never be made to feel. It really is saddening to think this distinction is happening all around.

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  2. Shamsiden says:

    Thank you for sharing your views. That tweet hit the nail on the head. As a Black American, I appreciate and respect what you have to say. As people, it is important to see things from the point of the “other”, before concluding. I will be sharing this.

    Like

    • javaj240 says:

      Thank you. I think that dialogue is important — it is a beginning, anyway. And the willingness to put ourselves in each other’s shoes is paramount to any successful relationship — global, national, and interpersonal.

      It really did smack me in the face, how much I didn’t know. I honestly thought that we had made progress — and I still think that we have, just not nearly enough. (Of course, I may be wrong about this, too.)

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

      Like

  3. Beautifully said, Jackie. I don’t know what the answer is but the fact that racism is still so strong in this country is sobering and inexcusable.

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  4. Yes I was at a loss for words watching everything. Can’t we all just get along? I am privileged but do have many black friends who are too and they would never resort to rioting or harming anyone else. Unfair things happen every day to my friends of all nationalities and I don’t see them destroying things. I don’t see the parents of that boy or the black leaders of the community rioting. I will never understand the mob mentality I guess. Sad for those innocent people that live in the town that was destroyed. So sad.

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    • javaj240 says:

      There will always be those who take advantage of a situation, which sucks. While I don’t know for sure, I would say the vast majority of the protestors were not looting.

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  5. elinwaldal says:

    Great post, Jackie. I appreciate your taking the time to write your thoughts out and for sharing them too. The systemic issues are so complex, this situation has made me really see that it isn’t enough to find racism deplorable. I need to find ways to be an effective ally to black people as a white person. The complexities of the underlying issues, although overwhelming, need to be unpacked. I don’t see this as a quick fix at all.

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    • javaj240 says:

      Oh, it’s far from a “quick fix”. I didn’t even scratch the surface regarding the “systemic issues” that you reference. I think there are so many things that contribute to, in many black communities, a sense of hopelessness.

      It certainly doesn’t feel like enough to find racism “deplorable” anymore, does it? And, yet, I don’t quite know what, exactly, I can do. It’s frustrating for me, so I cannot even imagine the level of frustration felt in the black community.

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  6. An African American friend and I recently talked about racism. She really opened my eyes to what goes on in her world that I am largely oblivious to.

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  7. CaptCruncher says:

    I have been trying to articulate this very thought since last night: “I know I’m privileged. Oddly enough, this is not a good feeling.” Thank you for giving that feeling – the guilt that goes with my outrage and colors my words – form.

    Your piece, your words, and your feelings of dis-ease capture it all – perfectly.

    Like

    • javaj240 says:

      Why, thank you. Sometimes a piece practically writes itself. This was one of them. When that happens I almost feel guilty taking credit or compliments for what I’ve written. That’s weird. I know.

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  8. I would like to think the events of the last several months would serve as the grand wake-up call our country has need, but I am a realist. However, I am also an optimist. I watch our country join as 1 against a common enemy after 9/11. It can be done, once we stop using the color on one’s skin, choice of religion, or home address to determine if another is the enemy.

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    • javaj240 says:

      I couldn’t agree more that It “can” be done, it’s a question of will it? I think what bothers me about all of this is that it’s not an isolated incident — even though that’s what the media would have us believe. It really does have to stop, but I fear that it will not happen peacefully.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The facts are absolutely impossible to discern with the way news is covered today. Impossible.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Toni McCloe says:

    This is a great post and very well thought out. If we all speak out and act for change maybe it will happen soon.

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  11. Yes, we have so far to go. Thanks for sharing.

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  12. Cathy says:

    This is excellent, Jacqueline. Wonderful. You hit it right on the nose. We can sit back in our privilege and watch what’s happening on the screen, turning it off when we’ve had enough. Get into our cars and drive where we please. We don’t have to live and think and worry like our friends whose skin happens to be darker than ours. I thought we came far from where we were 40, 20, even 10 years ago. I am so very wrong. We have a lot of awareness, compassion, understanding and tolerance to go. Oh, boy.

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