What is my privilege?

I’m trying to educate myself more about the racial divide in our country. Recently I came across a way of expressing how much I take for granted that is not available to many others.

Here’s the various privileges and my paraphrasing of the descriptions:

  • Economic privilege – the possibility to pass wealth on to my children and to not worry about whether I can provide the necessities for my family…and also have enough for what would seem luxuries to many others (vacation, health care, etc.)

    This is true for me. I do not consider myself “rich”–but compared to most of the rest of the world, I am. I have a home, health care, the ability to buy food and clothing, enough to have private transportation and be able to go on vacations.

  • Spatial privilege – being able to move around without fear of violence.

    Somewhat true for me. As a woman, I am more vulnerable than men–but I am definitely less vulnerable than minority individuals.

  • Educational privilege – knowing that public education will meet my needs and that I can get a quality education.

    Definitely true for me. I received an excellent education–and have been able to get two advanced degrees.

  • Intellectual privilege – my accomplishments will be recognized as being my accomplishments, not as “a credit to [my] race.”

    Again, true for me.

  • Historical privilege – when I open a history book, people of my race are represented accurately and given credit

    Again, true for me. As I have gotten older, I am realizing just how much I did not learn from my history books–how much history was presented from only my perspective, diminishing the accomplishments of individuals from other backgrounds.

  • Generational privilege – the ability to search for and find my ancestors

    I’ve been enjoying doing some family research, finding out more about my great-great-great-great-grandparents (and further back). I can find them in historical records without too much difficulty, although sometimes figuring out which spelling of my last name might have been used! But in looking at those records, I also often see individuals described by only one name (a “white” one) with no other information that might help their descendants connect with them.

  • Bodily privilege – the freedom to look like I do and not have people judge me or want to touch me

    Again, this is mostly true for me. Yes, sometimes I may have someone ask if I have put on (or lost) weight, but that is not a constant question. And, except for when I was pregnant, people have generally not wanted or felt free to touch me without asking.

Once we can begin to recognize how much of our lives we (as white people) live without acknowledging how much freedom we have, then we can begin to see the differences that exist–and work to make sure others have the same privileges we do.

Please protest quietly…

How many times have I heard something like this said over my lifetime? Too many.

“Please don’t bother the status quo…it’s working just fine.” “Please stay in your place and everything will be okay.” “Violence isn’t the answer.” “Why can’t you just protest peacefully?”

The status quo isn’t working just fine. Too many people are stopped for walking while black…driving while black…standing in their yards while black…shopping while black. And don’t tell me those are isolated incidents. They’re not. They’re everyday fears for far too many Americans.

What is someone’s place? Under your knee? Out of sight?

I agree, violence isn’t the answer. But do we learn about the violence that has been perpetrated against an entire race because of their skin color? We might have heard about some lynchings…might even know about Emmett Till. But what about the Tulsa Race Massacre? the Tuskegee experiment? And are we aware–really aware–of the brutality of the lynchings?

Not to mention the long list of people of color who have been victims of police brutality in our own time…and the systemic racism that makes it acceptable for white folks to make threats and carry weapons into a state legislature, threatening violence–and yet be allowed to walk around freely, while people of color are shot, even when they are on the ground with their hands up, trying to protect an autistic client.

Devos-Funded Group Organizes Protest Against Michigan Governor's ...
Shooting of Charles Kinsey - Wikipedia

Why can’t you just protest peacefully? What we really mean is, please don’t get in my face with your stories and your anger. For a generation, people of color have been trying to get us to listen. Every Sunday, Colin Kaepernick protested peacefully to try to get us to listen.

We didn’t.

These current protests aren’t about one man’s death. They’re about years of brutality…of being ignored…of being mistreated. They’re about years of trying to get us white folk to listen–and nothing else seems to get our attention.

If we will not listen–truly listen–as people of color try to share their experiences with us…if we are not willing to at least try to put aside our biases (whether they are conscious or unconscious), then eventually we will hear “a song of angry [people] who will not be slaves again.”

But…but…but…

I can almost guarantee that any discussion about the events in the United States over the last several days will be met by somebody saying “But…”

  • But violence and looting isn’t the answer.
  • But if he hadn’t resisted, he’d have been fine.
  • But the police were just doing their jobs.
  • But…
  • But…
  • But…

You can fill in the gaps.

While I don’t condone violence and looting, all of this deflects from what I believe is important. A black man was handcuffed by white police, placed in a position that they were trained was dangerous, had a knee placed on his neck for over 8 minutes–and kept there, even after he became unconscious, and died. It was an unnecessary death.

One death in this way is too many. But–and yes, I’m using that word–this is not the first time situations like this have happened. Unarmed black people–or people legally carrying–shot by white police, who then either face no charges or are found not guilty.

Don’t tell me they deserved it. Just don’t even go there.

Tell me why white men, armed with weapons and having made threats, were allowed to enter a state legislature, wander around with their weapons and then leave on their own with no police action.

Tell me why white men charged with multiple murders are captured and handcuffed and treated politely.

Tell me why neo-Nazis protesting violently in Charlottesville are “good people” while African-Americans are “thugs.”

Tell me why black people, peacefully protesting brutality they see in their communities, are almost always met with police in riot gear, armed with pepper spray and mace, while white protests are not.

Tell me why a black/Latino CNN camera crew is arrested, even after showing their credentials and asking the police to just tell them where they want them to move to…while a white CNN reporter is simply politely asked to move back.

Tell me just how African-Americans are supposed to have their voices heard.

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When we stop saying “but…” and start listening, then maybe, just maybe we can find ways of healing.

My heart is breaking

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be a person of color today. My heart is breaking for them–but I’m sure it is nothing compared to their hurt and fear.

I know there are some challenges I face as a woman. But because I am white, I am also aware there are some privileges I have–privileges I have become more aware of over the last several years. Privileges that people of color don’t have.

Perhaps you have not seen these–but these four stories are just a small sampling of the reasons my heart is breaking today:

What do they all have in common? The fact that persons of color were identified as “villains”…and that the white people involved had confidence that their stories would be believed without any questions.

What is happening to us?

Or maybe the question isn’t “what is happening to us”…but rather it is this: why has it taken us (white people) so long to realize the challenges our brothers and sisters face every day?

And there is a corollary question: What are we going to do about it?

There is a poem by Saint Teresa of Avila that says this:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
     no hands but yours,
     no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out
     Christ's compassion to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
     doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

If we are the body of Christ, then how will we respond?

Is your heart breaking as mine is? What are we going to do about it? Wringing our hands…offering thoughts and prayers…that’s not enough.

If we are the body of Christ, then we have the responsibility to speak out for justice for those who have no voice. We have the responsibility to help others begin to see with new eyes. We have the responsibility to take the privilege we have and use it to speak truth to power…to call for justice…so that others’ hearts will not break because of our inaction.

How do we live nonviolently?

A while back I attended a workshop on living nonviolently. That’s a topic that has interested me off an on for a long time. But how do we do it?

I was a young adult during the chaos of the civil rights actions in the 1960s…and was impressed by the stories and videos of other young people my age who calmly faced snarling dogs, fire hoses, police brutality. How did they do it? Could I have done it?

I was also impressed by a scene in the movie Gandhi when he led a peaceful march on the salt works. Men lining up calmly and quietly, several abreast, watching the men ahead of them being clubbed down…and then stepping up quietly to take their turn. How did they do it?

Jesus called those who are peacemakers “blessed.” What does it mean to be a peacemaker?

Sometimes that means stepping into situations of violence and taking blows…without returning them.

Sometimes that means spending time holding individuals and situations up in prayer.

Sometimes that means writing…elected officials, newspapers, whoever else might have influence.

None of us can do all of that. But each of us can do something. If we don’t, then we are part of the .

But I come back again to the question: what does it mean to live nonviolently?

It’s more than just not killing someone (or something). It’s more than just taking action. It’s a complete way of life–because actions come out of our thoughts.

It requires a transformation…of ourselves, our communities, our governments…our world.

Some might say that living this way is impossible. But continuing to live the way we are is not sustainable. Something has to change! And that has to start with us.

We do not need guns and bombs to bring peace, we need love and compassion – Mother Teresa

I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more. – Chief Joseph

Any type of violence is against God, against religion, against spirituality, against humanity, and against nature. Maturity comes only through non-violence, love, and all-inclusiveness. – Amit Ray

Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another….World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

I don’t understand us…

I don’t understand us. I really don’t.

I thought I knew who we are…but this pandemic is showing just how dark our dark side is.

I thought we were people who prided ourselves on listening to facts…but I now see so many parroting conspiracy theories that pull “facts” out of thin air. Media outlets that were once respected are now being called “fake news” and others that were once seen as on the fringe and bizarre are now being touted as the ones we should listen to in order to get “the truth.”

I thought we believed that science could help improve our lives. We found ways–through science–to eradicate diseases that had been dangerous for children for many years. And yet now there are many who have decided that somehow science itself has become dangerous and they are willing to allow those diseases to reappear.

I thought we believed in education, even though we didn’t pay teachers or give them the respect they deserve. But now we seem to be doing as much as possible to tear down the public education system rather than seeing what needs to be done to make it better.

I thought we believed that we had a responsibility to work with other countries to try to make this a better world for everyone. Yet now we are acting as though it’s every country for itself–and we (the United States) are going to get what we want, regardless of how it impacts anyone else. We seem to have decided that there is no value in cooperation.

I thought we believed in welcoming immigrants…that people could come here with a dream of making a better life for themselves and their children–and that we would help them. But we have now slammed the door shut, even to those who are fleeing horrendous situations that our policies have helped create.

I thought we believed that we had a responsibility to try to make amends for mistakes we made in the past. I thought we were working towards a time when people would be judged–as Martin Luther King said–on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Yet the news is full of stories of people being arrested or killed simply because they are “living while black.”

I thought we believed that character mattered. But now so many who have said that values and character are important seem content to turn a blind eye to leaders who constantly lie, who use their time in power to enrich themselves and their families, who cozy up to dictators.

I thought we believed that defeating “theologies” of white supremacy as expressed by the Confederacy (in the United States) and the Nazis (in Germany) was important. Yet so many who are protesting, demanding their “freedoms” carry those flags as a badge of pride.

I thought we believed that we were our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers…that we should care for them as much as we care for ourselves. In this pandemic we have been asked to do just that in order to avoid a situation like the 1918 pandemic–but for many that impinges on their freedoms and they demand the right to do what they want, regardless of how that may impact anyone else.

I’m aware that we were not successful in many of these areas…that we had work to do. I’m aware that as a white person in America, I didn’t have to deal with the realities that people of color did (and still do).

But I thought we were willing to work at getting better. But now? It feels like we’re moving backward instead of forward…and too many of us seem to be taking pride in that.

I don’t understand us. I really don’t.

Privilege…

 

I have been struck recently by these two images–and the responses to them.

The one on the left is of Colin Kaepernick, a former football player who is African-American, quietly taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the systemic racism that has long been a part of American life. He took this action not because he is anti-American or anti-military. Instead, he took it to try to draw attention to the problems so many African-Americans face when they simply try to live their lives in America.

He was vilified for that action…and has not played football for a couple of years because no team has been willing to sign him. The fact that he visited with a former Navy Seal…and that they had a good discussion about the concerns and were willing to listen to each other…has been negated.

The picture on the right is a recent one of some of those who protested the stay-at-home orders of the Michigan governor. They were part of a large group who were in the Michigan legislature, many of them armed.

I can only imagine what would have happened if their skin color had been different…because it’s happened before. There would have been immediate police action…arrests…calls for them to have been locked up for years…comments about how inappropriate it was for them to have carried guns in a threatening way around legislators.

But these men were white.

They have received support…including support from the president. In many areas they have been seen as “heroes.”

It doesn’t seem to matter that the actions they are protesting have been taken in an attempt to keep people safe. They want their “freedom” to do what they want, regardless of how it impacts others.

If you are tired of hearing talk about “white privilege”…if you don’t think it exists…I ask you to simply think about how these two different protests have been viewed. If Kaepernick’s skin was white, would we have thought differently about his protest? If the Michigan protestors’ skin was dark, would we have responded with anger at their actions?

Privilege exists. It is real.