White Privilege

Have you ever been stopped by the police or sheriff while walking or driving? I have. I was going a little too fast. Once, I made an illegal u-turn. Other than that, I’ve made it through over forty years of driving without being stopped.

And I have certainly never been stopped because I was female and white.

You know where this is leading.

Since the events in Ferguson MO, I have been – again – doing a lot of thinking and reading about race. How can we not?

But most of us don’t go very deep.

I was raised with what today is called “white privilege.” I don’t know what it was called back when I was being raised with it. It probably wasn’t yet called anything.

I didn’t know I had white privilege. It was easy to not know this because other than two families who had slightly darker skin than my family did, everyone in my neighborhood, everyone in my school, in fact, looked just like me. It was simply “normal” to have light skin, a dad with a good job, and a mom who was a housewife.

in high school, I got to know a few minorities. However, it wasn’t until after graduation that I understood that every single one of the black students lived, literally, on the other side of the tracks. It wasn’t until after graduation that I learned about the swimming pool in the basement of the high school that had been closed down because “the Colored” wanted to swim there, too.

So what does it mean to have white privilege?

For one, it means I don’t have to worry about being pulled over for some obscure reason when I’m driving. And if by some chance I am, I have no fear of being shot. Even if I question the officer’s motives in stopping me, said officer might get a bit testy, but I won’t have a gun pulled on me. I won’t get shot.

I know far too many young black men who have been pulled over – repeatedly – for daring to drive down our county roads. In broad daylight. At night, they’re pulled over and the office approaches, hand on gun. These are young men who live here. They must be sick of it. I would be.

White privilege means that if I chose to, I could purchase a rifle, sling it over my shoulder, and walk through the local grocery store.

I don’t know a single person who is not white who could pull that one off. In fact, just a few weeks ago, a young Black man was in Walmart. He picked up a pellet gun in the toy department. A customer saw him with the gun and dialed 9-1-1. He never had the chance to set the gun down before the police shot him. Can you imagine a young white man being shot for picking up a pellet gun? Can you imagine someone even dialing 9-1-1?

No once crosses the street because she is afraid I’ll grab her purse. And if I did grab that purse, it’s not likely I’d get shot while running away.

No one follows me through a department store, fearful I’ll be shoplifting. I had a white girlfriend in college who shoplifted and no one ever gave it a thought when she went into a store. My black friends were closely watched.

Over $400,000 has been collected to support the policeman who shot Michael Brown – before he’s even been charged with anything. And some of the donors have made such racist, hateful statements that it is shocking, even to me, one who has heard quite a bit.

I am not sure what we do about this except to speak out. Over and over, Black youth – and adults – are gunned down before they can even explain what they’re doing. Remember Renisha McBride? She was in a car accident and her cell phone was dead. She knocked on a door and when no one answered, turned around to leave. That’s when she was shot by the homeowner.

We all, whatever our race and whatever our privilege or lack of privilege may be, must speak against the madness of assuming that Black = dangerous. We need to all stand together on this. Letters to the editor. Attend rallies in each other’s neighborhoods. Cross the race barrier.

I marched for equality in the 1960s. It saddens me, sickens me, that I have to do it still today.

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20 Comments

  1. Wonderful piece, Emilie. Sadly, it’s not just assuming black is dangerous. There’s a war going on. From the presidency on down. It has destroyed Obama’s presidency, paralyzed the Congress, and gives every angry white person the impetus to shoot at will. One can not help but ask what is wrong with the human race that has killed 100 million of our own and now sets its sites on the planet that is our home.

    Reply

  2. with my slow or no internet, i am way behind on details, though i have seen many headlines… i will be returning to the deep south in a few weeks, and i should probably brace myself for reverse culture shock.. when obama ran for election the first time, i got a huge case of shock – how naive of me to have thought that racism was in the past — it sobered me, and i was ashamed…

    is that what happened? he picked up a pellet gun and was shot?

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    1. The death of the young man in Missouri is not the one with the pellet gun. There are many stories, and it is hard to wade through them all, but by most accounts he had put his hands over his head before he was shot.

      The young man in Walmart was shot just a week before that, and yes, he was in the toy aisle and picked up a pellet gun. A caller claimed he was being threatening, and the cops who shot him said he aimed at them, but thankfully the security video shows he was simply standing there, holding the gun so it pointed down, and was on the phone to his girlfriend who heard him scream and die.

      I am so sick of this. I I imagine the Black community is even sicker. Although I do not condone the violence that ha arisen in Missouri, how long is a community supposed to be harassed, arrested, and gunned down before they say, “basta ya!” or, “enough already!”

      Reply

      1. it makes my heart heavy. a dear friend of mine in natchez is black, and i often stay with her for my first few days back in the usa before moving on to see the rest of my loved ones in the northern part of the state. she always chuckles when i express my sadness and embarrassment of how blacks are treated/have been treated… it will be interesting to hear what she says this year – it’s been three years since i’ve been home. z

    2. Do brace for culture shock. That would happen no matter where you visited in the US.
      My first time I went to Guatemala, people warned me of culture shock. I eased into Guatemala beautifully. The culture shock happened when I cam home – and I was only gone ten days.
      There is a blanket of discomfort over the entire country right now, partly because of the Ferguson shooting, and partly because middle and lower class people everywhere are starting to understand how the obscenely rich are screwing us all. Amazingly, some sort of get it – but decide to hate the minorities. It all makes me want to leave the country.

      Reply

  3. Emilie…I came to the “land of the free” at age twelve as a German refugee. Three hours after getting of the ship, at a Trailways bus stop in Maryland, I got my first lesson in US racism. I needed to go to the bathroom and stood in line with the men. I was violently yanked out of line by a yelling man and pushed into the other line of men, white men. Since then I have tried to do my bit to make things a little better. Sixty years later I left “the land of the free” thoroughly disillusioned. My new home land, Ecuador, is far from free from racism it just isn’t as virulent nor as hypocritical.

    Reply

    1. Rainer, it is amazing how so many people don’t recognize the racism here. I’m glad things are a bit more settled in Ecuador, but clearly there is nowhere that’s perfect.

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  4. Having grown up in Missouri and gotten to know and become friends with some very good hearted people it is very disappointing to hear their reactions to this whole mess. I am not naive about the denial of white privilege or even the feeling that it is a right somehow earned at birth. As I said some of the discussions online and in person with people that are intelligent, educated and sensitive to the plight of those who have met with misfortune are really disturbing in light of these events. So many go back to what they were taught as children without a thought or any misgiving. There are some people I am avoiding because I just don’t want the confrontation, but I do stand up and speak my heart when it is needed. I take my strength from knowing I am not alone even in a room that seems to be filled with hate.

    Reply

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