When I was a kid, we used to go out after curfew and run from the local cops as a fun game. We would dodge their spotlights and run through private property to stay out of sight. Not for a second did we fear for our lives. If we got caught drinking or one of us had pot, the worst that would happen was they’d confiscate it and maybe let our parents know.
This is just one small example of the privilege I was born into. I have never put my hands on a wall and spread my legs to be frisked. I have never feared for my life as the police approached me on the street or in my car. I have had things handed to me my whole life, and a primary force that enabled that was that when people looked at me and spoke to me, they felt I was somehow deserving. Most of that trust was not earned. It just happened. I was born into it. It was enabled by the private school I attended… the fact that my parents were well educated and still married… etc.
I was once pulled over for a broken tail light in Baltimore, and discovered that I had no current registration or proof of insurance in the car. I can be pretty disorganized…. When they looked me up, my Drivers License didn’t show as current in their system. I was embarrassed, but not afraid. It went as I expected. I convinced the officer that everything was fine. I just needed to contact the DMV to get it cleared up. He was nice to me. He let me go. I drove away from that thinking about my whiteness.
I have thought about that exchange (and the countless others like it) a lot of times, because it is the most perfect depiction of my privilege- the amount of trust that was granted to me by this officer, who simply took my word for it that everything was fine here, likely because of how I looked and how I talked. In contrast to the relentless onslaught of stories of black men and women being murdered by police for the crime of being black, being incarcerated by the millions for years, for life, for crimes that I myself have also committed at times… experiences like mine trace the clear contours of a system that is intended to keep people like me on top.
My privilege was and is inextricably linked to my whiteness. My whiteness is my ticket for entry to a massive, interconnected system of privilege made for and by people who look like me. I am cocooned, sheltered, and propped up by it, whether I built it or support it or not.
I am not insulted by that fact. I am not diminished by it. I was born into this fucked up system, and thus its existence is not an indictment on my character…
What is an indictment on my character is whether I acknowledge it, recognize its benefits for me and the costs that that imposes on my fellow Americans of color, and whether I seek to dismantle it.
If there is not official training for it, let us at least be outspoken about the existence of this system and how unacceptable it is. Let’s at least not stay silent, because for those who benefit, silence is complicity. Let’s at least keep asking whether our brothers and sisters of color are in the room, whether they were considered for the position, whether they are being granted the same level of trust, whether they are fighting against invisible tides, whether they are being diminished, downtrodden, beaten, made uncomfortable, made unwelcome, made to feel lesser, made to work harder…
Silence is acceptance. We are responsible for taking this thing apart, so let’s do the work.