I used to have a hard time entering conversations about racial inequality wherein whites are oppressors. I grew up the poor kid in the rich kid school and that school was not
Lily White. I had the great fortune of growing up in a culturally diverse school system. So I made the mistake of thinking my generation was “doing the race thing better”.
I was wrong.
See, I misunderstood Privilege. To me, privilege meant access to places not everyone could go. I didn’t attend the best colleges. I didn’t travel. I didn’t wear designer clothes. I had to work for what I had starting very young.
I thought that helped me understand being a minority. I thought simply because we were the have nots in a very have environment, that meant somehow I was closer to my black and brown friends.
I was pretty damn clueless.
This made me defensive and angry whenever anyone suggested I might be part of the ongoing racial problems. Somehow, I was the oppressor and I just refused to swallow that.
Then, I had kids and I started watching other moms to learn from them. That’s when I saw it.
Privilege has nothing to do with what is, and everything to do with what was and what could be.
In all our broke-ness as a family when I was young, we were never looked down on as if we somehow deserved our economic position. In fact, my mom was supported at every turn. She was given two jobs to help care for us. Did she deserve them? Probably, but not because she was white. Did she get them because she was white? Maybe not. But would she have gotten them if she wasn’t?
If my mother was a single mother of six who suddenly needed work after years of “doing nothing” at home with kids and she was black, would she have had two administrative jobs available to her immediately upon my father’s death? How about one where she was fully in charge of the money? Probably not.
How about those moms I watch now? My friends of color who raising kids right alongside me. When our babies are out together as teens, doing the stupid stuff kids are apt to do, will my kids fear for their lives if they’re caught? Probably not. Will theirs? You can be sure.
I’ve never had to teach my kids how to behave differently for authority. Sure, I teach them manners and proper behavior, just like my friends of color teach their kids. But I have never told my kids they can’t dress a certain way because it may warrant abuse by authority.
I’m sure my friends have.
In my town, my white friends worry about the safety of their kids on bikes at night because of busy traffic. My black and brown friends worry that if their kids are out at night they may be stopped by police because they look suspicious-in their own neighborhood.
My kids never look suspicious. I have never looked suspicious. That’s privilege.
So what? What now? This isn’t meant to shame or point fingers of illicit guilt. It’s meant to spur thought and action.
I hope we can all agree the stuff that’s going down in Ferguson is unacceptable. For all of us. Mostly because it’s not actually that rare, or surprising. That may be the worst part.
So what do we do about it?
I’m brought back to something a priest said when addressing our responsibilities for all the problems in the world.
Have a conversation. A real one that may be horribly uncomfortable but is so, so necessary. Ask questions. I plan to . I don’t know what the heck I can do to be part of the change that is so necessary, but I know I have to be part of it, so I plan to find out how from all those friends of color I keep talking about.
For a long time I was afraid to say this stuff out loud. I lectured my kids about equality and fair treatment. But I was afraid to speak up in front of anyone else, afraid of confrontation, afraid I’d lose friends.
After all, I remember how terrible these facts of privilege made me feel and I was afraid of pushing them on others.
Over the years, I have removed people from my life that outwardly disagree with the way I feel about this. Currently, If you’re spewing outrage or justification on social media about 50cent cigar theft and looting, you’re probably not in my feed anymore. I’ve quietly removed you.
There is no justification for a boy being gunned down and left in the street like road kill. None.
I can’t sit here quiet anymore. This racism is real. It’s old and it’s deep and it’s real. Even if you and I don’t think we’re perpetuating it, we just might be through our tacit silence. It’s time we stand up with all those black friends we claim to have when we need them. It’s time us white folks did something.
Quiet nothing is no longer an option.
My kids should be just as cautious about stealing from a convenience store as my neighbors’ kids. Because stealing is wrong. Not because they might get shot for it.