Did you know that a white person with a criminal record is more likely to get a callback for a job interview than a black person with the same qualifications who doesn’t have a record? Did you know that with overwhelming frequency, a white criminal will be identified on the news by a profile or ID picture, while a person of color will be identified by their mugshot? Did you know that white people who commit mass shootings are “confused, misguided loners” while people of color are “terrorists?” I didn’t until recently. I had (and still have, should I choose) the privilege to ignore those realities.
I’m white. I’m not followed around in stores, I’m not given a wide berth on the street, and when I turn on the TV I’m fortunate enough to see my race represented in a positive way. When I learn the history of my country, I learn about white men and their actions that shaped our nation. Those we forced into slave labor have their history and stories relegated to the month of February, and those we forced out of their homes and off their land seldom have their stories told at all.
Privilege. I am told to celebrate my history, to celebrate the founding fathers that created this great nation. People of color are told to celebrate the white man’s history too. Not their own – not the history of legal slavery and segregation. Not the histories of violence and inequality that have morphed into realities. They are told by whites to forget their suffering, because “I never personally owned slaves,” and “I didn’t participate in segregation,” and “we’re a post-racial society.”
Privilege. My white peers and I have the privilege to be colorblind. We can claim in this country not to be racist because “we don’t see color.” Many of us don’t understand that this is still racism – it’s white people perpetuating judgement and basing worth off of skin color. It means that we choose to see people as we wish to see them because being what they are isn’t ‘white’ enough.
Privilege. When my white peers and I are detained or questioned by law enforcement, we can be sure we haven’t been singled out because of our race. It’s been shown time and time again – people of color are much more likely to be victims of unnecessary violence inflicted by law enforcement officials. Amadou Diallo. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Antonio Zambrano-Montes. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Sarah Lee Circle Bear. Tanisha Anderson. So many more – too many more. We must say their names.
Privilege. White people voted for Trump. White people voted for Trump. White people voted for Trump. Numbers don’t lie. The fear and apprehension that any white person may be feeling as a result of the election has been felt by people of color for hundreds of years. We whites have had the privilege to ignore it until now.
White guilt is normal. Many recent events have served me a healthy dose of white guilt, but if there’s one thing I have learned from listening to people who are not white, it’s this: keep listening. It’s not enough to be empathetic. It’s not enough to just feel guilty – that doesn’t help anyone. Keep listening, keep asking, and keep giving credit where it’s due.
The roots of discriminatory violence lie with those of us who refuse to acknowledge that privilege exists, who refuse to acknowledge that privilege persists, and who are so caught up in denying their advantages they fail to recognize that embracing those societal advantages and using them proactively brings us all one step closer to a harmonious existence.
We cannot stop educating ourselves and listening to those whose voices we’ve muffled for so long. Let us not convince ourselves the Civil Rights movement achieved equity. The Civil Rights movement is now.
Written by Alexandra Weeden.