On the privilege spectrum
Hi. My name is Sharon, and I have white privilege (WP). A mere color gene passed unknowingly to me by both parents has smoothed my life’s path to a degree I can no longer ignore. Fact is, I could just as easily have been conceived by two Black parents. And a Black me would predictively have a different life trajectory in America, one less fair, more constricted, perhaps less valued, and very possibly more dangerous.
In this time of the Black Lives Matter movement in tandem with Covid-19 quarantine, I’ve been thinking even more intensely about the two Americas –that of whites and of people of color, and my unmerited privileges.
Allowing me to walk in virtually any neighborhood in the evening without causing suspicion, WP also permits my buying a major appliance while dressed in down-scale jeans and shirt, without someone questioning my financial capability; avoiding the icy terror of a police officer pulling me over for a broken tail light, compelling me to make sure my license and registration are on the dashboard so the officer doesn’t think I’m reaching for a weapon (a worry more common with Black male drivers), then harassing me by demanding I step out of my car and becoming aggressive (perhaps lethally) should I refuse.
WP enables me to reside and be accepted in almost any neighborhood. And I can go shopping in my old clothes in any store without other customers or store attendants staring at me, or the attendants following me to make sure I don’t shoplift. (Even Black notables such as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson have experienced this.) For state and national elections, my voting rights are unlikely to be suppressed, as often happens to Black Americans, particularly in the South. My WP also means I’m two and a half times less likely than my Black age peers to get the coronavirus (Pew Research Center), and my hospital care would probably be better.
Have I taken my WP for granted? Yes, but finally, no longer.
Do I understand the worry, paralyzing fear, humiliation, anger, and the emotional, physical, and economic stresses so many African Americans experience, taxing their health and in some unfair, tragic cases their very lives? Most assuredly yes, as much as a white person can.
After reading –and in the case of George Floyd, seeing– some of the myriad tragic cases of unjust, disproportionate police mistreatment or violent abuse –some of it lethal– of African Americans and being aware for decades of the stats of inequality between Blacks and whites in just about every aspect of life, I can no longer sit in the white catbird seat. I can no longer give only lip-service support to my fellow Americans of color. As citizens, they should be able to live without fear and racist degradation. They have a Constitutional right (13th and 14th Amendments) to live in dignity with all the privileges accorded whites. I can help. And so can you.
Not surprisingly, Googling led me to a motherlode of ways to help. On medium.com a thoroughly annotated list, “97 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice,” comprises actions to take, videos of Black people talking about their experiences, podcasts, book suggestions, programs and study materials for teachers, guidelines for talking about anti-racism, campaigns, black and anti-racist organizations to contribute to, Black-owned businesses to support, suggestions for helping fight police violence on Blacks, and much more.
Americans have come a long way to accepting the tiny. percentage–about 0.01%–of our human genetic makeup that results in our biologically and socially adaptive differences (gender, sexual preferences, skin color, and so on). Yet deplorably racism persists. Most outrageously in the highest office in the land.
That any one of us was born a shade of brown, white, or black is a roll of the existential dice. And anthropological and biological researchers have discovered that neither color nor gender nor other differences in that 0.01% range determine intelligence, creativity, industriousness, and so on. Because all people share 99.9% of human genetic makeup, society, not biology, created the idea of race and racism. Counterintuitively, that’s good news. Not that racism exists, but that something can be done about it. Since society/culture created racism, it can also extinguish it.
Sharon Wirt lives in Southbury.
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