A Facebook page called “The Good, the Chad, & the Ugly” shared this post today. When I saw it I felt compelled to share it with an added comment, to wit:
Another day. Another lesson about white privilege. Will I ever complete this course? #ComplexionfortheProtection
I then felt compelled to share some other thoughts.
When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, her class would do a little chant/song at the end of the day to identify what they had learned.
The teacher would ask: “What did you learn at school today?”
The children would reply (in unison): “Sharing, counting, coloring,” or whatever they had learned that day.”
The children were eager to learn, eager to share what they had learned, and eager to return the next day to learn some more.
I, too, love to learn. I especially love the fact that I can receive all sorts of lessons and learn how to do all sorts of things from cooking to carpentry, from weaving to woodworking, and from sewing to sanding, all while enjoying the comfort of my own home.
There are some lessons, however, that I no longer need to learn. White privilege is one of them.
Believe me, I know all I need to know about white privilege. I can recognize it in all of its forms. I can even recognize it when it masquerades as something else. I can recognize it even when it does not recognize itself.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the subject of white privilege, it seems as though I am stuck in some sort of endless “Twilight Zone” loop where I am trapped in this course in which I did not enroll and the same lessons keep being repeated over and over and over and over again.
Even when I think I am in a safe place, I keep receiving the lessons.
When I am in the store or restaurant waiting for assistance and a white person comes in after I do but expects (before being advised of the folly of that notion) to be assisted before I am, I receive another lesson.
When I file a motion and my opposing attorney (white male) does not respond at all, but the Judge (white male) gives him a (beyond the eleventh hour) opportunity to respond, I receive another lesson.
Fifty-eight years of living in Georgia where we still (proudly) display our prejudices like Christmas lights (and practice them so they will not get rusty) and thirty-four years of working in a profession where the majority of the decision makers are white men have given me a fairly thick skin such that most days I am able to laugh about the individual lessons I receive. I am also able to return the favor and give some lessons to my would-be tutors.
But, every now and then, the lesson in white privilege is so harsh that it brings me to tears, sucks the breath out of me, and knocks me to my knees. One of those harsh lessons happened late last month.
I learned that the senseless and unnecessary killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice (who was playing with a toy gun at a local recreation center and who happened to be black) was not a crime because he was large for his age and could be reasonably seen as “threatening.” This lesson seemed particularly harsh since I had previously learned that a 16-year-old white young man (Ethan Couch) should only receive probation (read: a slap on the wrist) for killing four people in a drunk driving accident because he suffers from “affluenza.”
So unlike the children in my daughter’s class who were eager for new and different lessons, I find myself being reluctant to listen to the news, to log on to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media, or to even talk to my friends for fear I will receive another unwanted and unnecessary lesson in white privilege. I have grown weary. I have grown angry.
So today when, after taking a little hiatus from the news and from social media, I began to read about a group of white men and their takeover of a building at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, I kept waiting to read about how the FBI or the ATF or some other federal law enforcement agency was sending officers or agents to deal with the situation. When none of the stories reported any action against these men, I realized that (once again) I was receiving another lesson in white privilege. While, as @koush points out, a group of black men in the same situation would be labeled as thugs and a group of brown men would be labeled as terrorists, a group of white men is a militia and they can apparently continue their actions without fear of reprisal or response.
Langston Hughes posed the question – “What happens to a dream deferred? After suggesting several possible and none too pleasant results, he ended with the frightening and prophetic question of “Or does it explode?”
I, like so many other people of color, am asking – “What happens when we keep being confronted day after day, not only with white privilege but with entrenched systems that allow its poison to proliferate?” For many of us, the answer has become — the systems must explode.