Updated: Jun 3, 2020
"Wait what?" I swear I can hear my white (kind of brown) 19 year old person saying out loud when I was confronted for the first time with my white privilege. "Hold up, I did not come from tons of money. I worked my ass off in school, I have had a job since I was 14 years old, and I earned the opportunity to be in college-it wasn't given to me. I am here because I chose to work hard, make sacrifices, and not give up."
I swear to God, I said something of that nature to a room full of brown and black peers in my African American Studies class back in 1999ish. They unleashed on me, as they absolutely should have, and explained to me clearly this idea of white privilege. The idea that no matter how hard I worked, no matter how much money I didn't have, no matter how much I fought to be in college, no matter how many hours I studied...it didn't f*cking matter--I still had a head start.
Our society is not set up so that it is an even playing field. They have known this disparity since they were young children. I only learned it as a young adult and even that is part of my privilege. I did not need to know it while growing up because systemic racism did not affect me and my daily life.
I am incredibly grateful for that uncomfortable moment in my life. A moment where in a campus of white majority, I sat in a classroom as the minority and learned some shit. I learned to shut up and listen to the stories of a world I didn't even know existed. I learned things that I would never understand in the suburban community where I grew up because no one was there to challenge the notion that I was privileged because of the color of my skin. I went to school with 500 people in my graduating class with a a total of 10 (ish) black and brown students.
One of the required readings for my African American Studies class was,"Climbing Jacob's Ladder: The Enduring Legacies of African-American Families" by Andrew Billingsley. I only gave this book away recently on our last move. I hung on to it, not because I was going to read it again, but because it was so influential in my life and it reminded me. As "white" people, we easily forget. There is a separate reality for our black and brown brothers and sisters and they live with it daily, hourly...always. I am going to add to my library many of the books that have been recommended on social media so that I can be reminded, so that I can learn, so that I can explain, and so that I don't forget when the world quiets again. So that I remember and continue to use my voice in a small way for change.
I want to go back to the place where I read and read and read and LISTEN. We do not know everything. We only know life from our lens. While that lens might be a hard, unfair, and sad lens, it is not black.
Have I suffered unfair actions because of my "sort of brown skin," sure. But the injustices were minor. Bullied for the way I look. Not given a job. BUT I am not scared. I do not live a life of fear. Fear of the police. Fear of being wrongly accused. Fear that my son will say the wrong thing to the police during a traffic stop or scare a neighbor while on a run on our street.
What if the stakes were so much higher than a bully's words? What if my life was in danger and no one came to help? What if I lived in fear of the police for more than just getting a speeding ticket, but instead a death sentence on the spot? I have no idea. And because I do not, I have privilege.
We need to remind each other in a loving way to "check our privilege" FIRST-before we speak and voice our opinion. Stop being offended. You might not be a racist. You might be someone who "judges people for their character, not the color of their skin." That is great, BUT it does not negate white privilege. White folks were born the favorable color for our country. That is it, plain and simple. White privilege is hard to admit, but it is even harder and more ignorant to ignore it.
This is what I have found to be the best video to explain things.