I wrote about my own understanding of white privilege two years ago. It seemed like a good time to think it through again, as I’m about to step into a world that exists without many privileges at all.
In the last two years, I’ve continued to read, study, and reflect on social justice and what it means to me. I’ve felt optimism and cynicism, hopefulness and helplessness. I suppose continuing to feel anything is the most important thing, other than stepping back and trying to reflect.
Progress seems slow, and then comes in leaps and bounds (Supreme Court decisions), and then reverts back to a glacial pace.
Atticus Finch is thrust back into the cultural spotlight, but now he’s racist. A hero to many becomes a complicated symbol, further complicated by the literary veracity of the publication. Wasn’t he always a complicated figure? Always reserved and seeking the order of law? Existing in the South in the 1950’s doesn’t make a white person a racist, but growing up as a white man in the South in the 30’s and 40’s would make it nearly impossible NOT to have a simple, paternalistic view of African-Americans. We would like Atticus to be pure in his heart. We would like to imagine a freedom fighter who stood in a sea of hate and created change.
Prequel or not, the South of the 1950’s will never not exist, just as the South of today will never not exist, just as the prison industrial complex will never not exist, just as the nature of our country’s past will never change. How we see the past may change. Our awareness of the present issues all people of color face in the United States is changing. The demographics of our country are changing. And yet, the pace will always feel glacial to those that are oppressed and for those that struggle for justice.
Yes, you are probably tired of hearing the names George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.
Yes, you may be upset about the laws in Florida.
Yes, you may be angry about all the guns in our country.
Yes, you may not feel all that privileged in your daily life.
Yes, you may not make much money.
Yes, you may not have a strong sense of your own identity.
Yes, you may not spend much time thinking about how you fit into society.
Yes, you may think you are similar to most other people.
Yes, you may be surrounded by seemingly similar people with seemingly similar ideas.
Yes, you may not be an individualist.
Yes, you may not be highly educated.
Yes, your culture may be focused on the collective, rather than the individual.
Yes, there are thousands of reasons that keep you from considering the ways in which
……you have it good.
Yes, there are hundreds of reasons that keep you from thinking about the ways in which
……you are lucky.
Yes, there are.
One fact about privilege is that it is hardest to confront among those that have it.
We are told we are smart and have earned everything that we have achieved.
We are told we are special.
We are told not to limit ourselves and to think broadly.
We are told that bad people are in jail and that good people are free.
We are told that athletes are on earth to sell us things rather than to be appreciated for their effort, perseverance and grace.
We are told that we have made progress.
We are told that things used to be worse.
We are told that the internet connects us, and that technology is making the world better in every way.
We are told to live in fear of those around us.
We are told to buy things in order to make ourselves feel better.
We are told to pray.
We are told to work long hours and then buy more things.
We are told to stay busy, to get busy, to exercise like crazy, but not to sit and think.
No, our system is not working, not enough.
No, our collective interest in humanity’s progress is not evident, not enough.
No, our people are not listening to each other, but instead talking over each other, when they are even speaking at all.
No, our people do not recognize that every child is their child.
No, our people do not look in the eyes of the people they meet today.
No, our humanity is not evident on a daily basis.
Yes, we can stop ignoring each other.
Yes, we can stop thinking of ourselves.
Yes, we can stop believing that everything is okay, and fill ourselves with hope by listening for the stories around us.
Yes, we can stop defeating our own political system with our apathy.
Yes, we can be better parents, children, siblings, and friends.
Yes, we can be better strangers as we walk down the street.
Yes, we can wake up.
Would I be attempting to articulate my own privilege had I not been educated to think critically?
Would I bother writing something about privilege and posting it publicly had I not been parented by people whose own parents valued education and were in positions of privilege themselves?
Would I keep asking rhetorical questions and thinking about the big picture if I hadn’t been given the desire to delve into consciousness, psychology, and sociology through my own experience in school and with the reading-focused family I was born into?
Not at all.
Would I think about White privilege the same way if my features didn’t suggest to so many people that I have Jewish blood?
I’m lucky enough to see how much better America could be than what it shows itself to be on most days.
Remember how good you have it, especially when you feel like you don’t.