(This is the first post in an ongoing effort to reveal and unravel white privilege in America, a deeply rooted and incredibly violent system of oppression that manifests itself in all aspects of our society. These views are not meant to be definitive, exhaustive, nor completely original. I’ve learned from countless others and they deserve infinite credit and appreciation for shaping who I am today.)
Because if you are surprised that American police can freely and inconsequentially murder a black boy, then I feel comfortable making several assumptions about you:
- To you, violence, genocide, oppression and enslavement are someone else’s history. You’re not living that traumatic legacy every day and society isn’t killing, enslaving, and oppressing you simply in a different way than it was before.
- You’re used to the (in)justice system unquestionably functioning for you, not justifying your murder.
- As a child, you weren’t deemed inherently dangerous, criminal, or violent because of the color of your skin.
- You’re probably white, living a privileged white life.
And if you’re not shocked by the ruling, you’re one of two people:
An ignorant, racist, callous bastard that justifies the state-sanctioned murder of children.
One of the millions of black, brown, and indigenous people who have learned that, in America, there is no justice for them. They deal with trauma, loss, and oppression in ways white people can’t possibly imagine. And after each new killing, each unjust murder, and every trial without a guilty verdict, they are reminded that their lives don’t matter. And that’s wrong.
Because black, brown, and indigenous lives do matter. Black and brown bodies need to be valued. And black and brown children do not deserve to be gunned down in the street. Why does that even need to be said?
Giant fucking PSA to white people: the economic, justice, and governmental systems aren’t broken. They were made for us and they’re working EXACTLY AS INTENDED. They were built on the bent, bloodied backs of colored people, and it’s time for a revolution, not reform. But that’s for another article.
That being said, this post is my first foray into illuminating and deconstructing white privilege in America, something I will continue to passively benefit from throughout the rest of my life regardless of how socially conscious I may become. Last year’s brutal killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland, Ohio, symbolizes the dramatic, festering rift between white and black/brown Americans and, unsurprisingly, many white people have no idea it’s even there. Or, even worse, they might actively deny that it exists.
- “But, Cooooolin, I’m a liberal and I once shared a bench with a black person – I deserve a medal!”
- This one time, I wore dreads and it was so empowering!
- “Hey, man, I dated a Latina once! And, wow, she was so (slur/stereotype/demeaning simplification).”
- “Oh, please, I don’t see race. America is post-racial and slavery was SO long ago! Why can’t you just let it go?”
- “Racists just use racism as a tool to divide us! It’s all a facade!”
Look, I honestly don’t give a shit about how many spaces with black people you didn’t avoid nor how many latinas you humanized beyond their sexuality. If you’re still questioning the reality of our white privilege, let me briefly break it down to you.
A privilege is any special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. That means it’s not granted equally to everybody, and it’s not something you choose to possess or be without.
A white privilege, then, is anything that white people have access to but black and brown people do not. It could be the ease of finding affordable housing, having readily available mental healthcare, or enjoying a nice run in town. Once you become aware of its startling pervasiveness, it’s everywhere. It’s in everything we do, how others interact with us, and it very likely shapes your views on the Tamir Rice murder.
If you’re white and living in America, please take this opportunity to think about any aspect of your life. Just pick a couple. What hairstyle do you have? What was your childhood like? What’s it like to walk down the street? Literally think of any possible circumstance, and chances are, you enjoy white privilege.
If you’re having trouble conjuring times where you might benefit from societal institutions and norms in ways that black and brown people don’t, let’s connect white privilege and the non-indictment of Tamir Rice’s murderer. Here’s what it’s like to be white in America:
- Police respect and protect you. Traffic stops don’t involve searches, periods of questioning, or your death.
- You think that police killings are simply the result of “a few bad apples.” That’s because you see no problem with how the police, government, and justice systems function.
- You can walk home and share dinner with your family after waving a real, loaded gun at police. You might even be congratulated for exercising your second amendment rights.
- As a parent, you know your children are playing safely at the park. Your children’s friend group isn’t a threat to be monitored.
- The thought of raising your child in America doesn’t terrify the fuck out of you.
- You get state-sanctioned social and economic justice when your children are harmed, mistreated, or murdered.
- Your young son isn’t criminalized for the color of his skin, and your young daughter isn’t sexualized by grown men.
- When your child is murdered, police, media, and the public don’t justify the killing with character assassination (“yeah, but he wasn’t always good…” “well, he did steal a candy bar that one time…” “you know, he wasn’t an angel…” “we don’t know what he was like at home…”)
- You can take your assault rifle to IHOP and enjoy your shitty pancakes knowing you won’t be instantly shot to death.
- You actually reach trial for a crime, and your all-white jury is normal and beneficial.
- You literally killed 10 people today and the police still take you alive.
- You would expect justice for Tamir Rice, for Sandra Bland, for Bettie Jones. Society’s always protected you, right?
- You can kill, maim, threaten, fire bomb, and engage in a myriad of other violent acts and never be labeled a terrorist.
- If your child was killed outside, you will never be asked “why did you let him play there?” You will never be blamed and your parenthood will never be questioned.
- If you were a taller than average kid you weren’t targeted by police.
- Open carry laws are for you. Guns at school are great!
- You feel safe in public spaces. You can go on runs. You can laugh loudly with your friends. You can even riot and burn police cars after a sporting event – who cares! (That’s right..no one!)
In contrast to those privileges we benefit from, I want to present this beautifully chilling tribute to Tamir Rice, written by Stacia L. Brown last year after his death. It invokes the constant trauma that black people endure every day in America, in everyday places. Too many black mothers don’t know if they’ll see their child after school tomorrow. Too many young black men are chained to the new Jim Crow institution of mass incarceration. Too many black girls and women are inconsequentially assaulted and raped with impunity.
In this instance, white police officers murdered a 12-year-old black child playing in the park. No arrests, no charges. The prosecutor blamed him for his own death and the officers were cleared of any wrong doing. This is why Trump is leading the presidential candidacy, and it’s not a fluke – IT’S AMERICA at its realest. It’s ALWAYS been like this for black and brown people. White people have just been shielded from it, benefiting for 600 years while we simultaneously ignore and participate in the death and exploitation of American people of color.
So, what’s a white person to do? I want to share some of the things I’ve learned in regard to understanding and deconstructing white privilege.
(Just, please don’t be like this: “I didn’t know, can someone teach me? But I’m a good white person, look at me! Not all white people!” You’re actually an asshole. Or, at least (giving you the benefit of the doubt), you can do better.)
- Don’t tell people how to grieve, or how to express their emotions, or how to deal with the trauma they’ve dealt with for 600 years in America. Listen, learn, empathize, validate, and be there for support as a friend.
- DON’T MAKE IT ABOUT YOU. People of color don’t exist for your validation, for your learning, or for your feelings. There’s thousands of books, articles, tweets, and content available to you to learn about these issues. Don’t ask a person of color to educate you nor think that you are entitled to their emotional energy.
- You don’t get to decide if you’re an ally. Other people do that. Your role is to be aware and use your privilege to disrupt oppression. Talk to other white people, discuss these issues with your family, and have hard talks with Grandma.
- We will never TRULY understand what it’s like to lose Tamir because killing our kids is a crime.
- If you don’t find anything wrong with the Tamir Rice murder, you’re ok with state-sanctioned murder and should probably jump off a cliff.
- Silence is VIOLENCE. By not taking a stand through words and actions, you are consenting to oppression. Say something!
- And if you DO decide to say something, don’t speak over people of color. Always listen, amplify, and engage from your own perspective as a white person in solidarity. We need white people to understand and join a meaningful revolution, and that starts with you and your interactions.
- Recognize your privilege, stay humble, and be receptive to criticism. There’s always more to learn and you’re not immune to being called out on perpetuating oppression.
- These are not issues pertaining solely to people of color. Racism, state violence, mass incarceration…they’re all deeply human problems that we contribute to, willingly or not. It’s time that we accept responsibility and act in solidarity.
As long as young black children are killed without arrests, charges, and justice, this post is never finished. I may add to it later, but for now, rest in Peace, Tamir. No justice, no peace. It’s time for a revolution – what will you do?
With love and solidarity,