I’ve been having some real disaster social-media conversations with people over the past few weeks, regarding race and privilege in the United States. The term “white privilege” has become the dirtiest phrase out there, among so many white dudes (and let’s face it, it’s usually dudes) who bristle at the slightest suggestion that yes, they are in fact privileged, despite not having an excess of wealth. As much as it makes my eyes involuntarily roll… I kind of get it. I mean, don’t mistake me, I think they’re totally wrong, but I grew up in an environment where this sort of mindset was the norm. And if you don’t take the step towards the uncomfortable, necessary education that these issues require, you remain stuck in that space. And it’s a space that has never seemed OK to me.
Jokes with racist connotations, inflammatory words and phrases, the general expectation that dating a person of color was not OK, the assumption that black people were entitled, aggressive, lazy, that black men were predatory, and thus, to be feared. At home, at school, in the community-these things were part of the landscape, in one way or another. Compounding this, was that my community growing up was lily-white, conservative, and not well-educated, on the whole. The most “progressive” of those professed not to see color, which is, by all accounts, ridiculous and invalidating. It has always seemed so small-minded and silly, but I’d be lying if I said I never internalized a fair chunk of it. I did. And for that, I am ashamed. It appalls me to even write these things, but I do so from a place of humility, and from a place that recognizes that we all need to get real, and face facts regarding our own biases and values and inclinations. Because, I promise you, they are there. Dig a little.
I have had a long road to getting where I am, and I still have a million miles to go in my education and understanding of racial inequality and privilege, in this country. And for that reason, I talk about it. A lot. I engage in those HORRIBLE “debates” on social media, that sometimes devolve into me being threatened with physical or sexual violence. I ask questions. But I shut up and listen when a person of color is talking. Please, for the love of God, stop saying “But I’m not that sort of white person.” On some level, we are ALL that sort of white person. It is not up to us to determine the narratives of other communities. People who disagree call me condescending or suggest that I labor under the impression that I have all the answers. On the contrary, I have these discussions and allow myself to be uncomfortable in the pursuit of knowledge (even if it brings up parts of myself that make me embarrassed to confront) because I have learned enough to know that I don’t know shit. And it’s my responsibility, as a white person, to educate myself, wherever and whenever possible. To recognize that my experiences and opinions are limited, and finite. And it is certainly not the responsibility of the oppressed to soothe our feelings about these issues, or to feel obligated to educate us-you gotta do the work, my friends. We all do.
“It is not up to us to determine the narratives of other communities.”
I want to touch on the Colin Kaepernick situation as I wrap up, because it’s causing a lot of strong feelings, from various points on the spectrum. And I’m going to break it down for you like this: that flag, that anthem? Yes, it does represent the sacrifice made for freedom… and one of those freedoms is peaceful protest. Also, you don’t get to yell and scream about black people protesting “aggressively,” but then decide that Kaepernick’s silent approach isn’t acceptable. You can’t have it both ways. It is not, and has never been, the role of white people to tell communities of color what they should and should not be troubled by, and how to handle that frustration... but it sure as hell hasn’t stopped them from trying, anyway. Just like with the people in our lives, we can love our country, flaws and all, and still expect better of it. Colin Kaepernick’s position of power and privilege as a wealthy athlete isn’t a notch against him ― it’s his responsibility to use his influence and convictions to raise others up. Privilege is not something to be ashamed of; rather, the critical action is to have an awareness of it, and utilize it to act in solidarity with others. And I commend Kaepernick for doing just that.