I am a privileged white girl.
I have lived my life in only partial recognition of the special treatment I get for the color of my skin, often unaware of the inherent leg up it’s given me in life.
I have, arguably, a white name. Certainly a white last name. It’s the name on my resume. My pale white skin is my profile picture on social media and the first thing a cop sees driving my Prius around. It’s the picture on my AirBnB and the face I bring to job interviews. It’s the face I brought to classrooms and cheer tryouts and theater auditions. It’s the face of unearned privilege.
I didn’t ask for privilege. Much like exceptionally beautiful people don’t ask for special treatment or comped drinks; much like little people don’t ask to be stared at when they walk down the street because they look different.
You don’t notice when you’re given something others aren’t because that’s how you’ve always lived your life. But I am thankful for the curtain that’s been pulled back through social media that has allowed me a better glimpse into why my whiteness is a crutch and an inherent benefit. Because although I have actively tried my whole life not to treat anyone differently on the basis of their appearance, it’s hard to notice when that’s happening to me. I can’t control for the racism, intentional or subconscious, of other people.
My friends get pulled over for driving while black. This isn’t an exaggeration; every black person I know has been pulled over for essentially no reason at least once. Brandon and I never have. In fact, we’ve sped right past cops, with no retribution. We’ve never had our cars or bodies searched, or a gun pulled on us by an officer.
I’ve never been in a room in which someone said, “Let’s not hire this person because they are black, or an immigrant, or Indian.” Racism isn’t bold and blatant in most cases. It’s not a proclamation made to a room of people, an announcement of a phobic stereotype lurking in the backs of people’s minds. It’s probably not even something people realize they’re doing.
But there is no doubt in my mind that my resume name, social profiles, and my white face, have risen closer to the top of a candidate pile over someone who looks different than me. Much like I am positive I’ve been passed up for job opportunities because I was a woman, been paid half of what my male counterpart was making, and been rejected for a job opportunity because I’m pregnant (actually, those last two aren’t assumptions, they’re facts).
I cannot believe this is the world we live in. But what angers me more than my incredulousness that racism is still an issue is the way we respond to it nationally. There are many supportive white people behind Black Lives Matter, but there are also many who don’t understand what all the fuss is about. This was illustrated when an athlete made a peaceful protest at a game to basically say he can’t support a country that kills people who look like him and doesn’t prosecute. Colin Kaepernick didn’t make a violent protest or start some sort of mutiny. He simply, silently, said he was sick of the race issue in this country being ignored. And yet hundreds of thousands of white people took to social media to complain about his lack of patriotism and tell him it wasn’t his place to protest. Um… if a cop shot your son in the back for no reason and the government did nothing about it, wouldn’t you lose a little patriotism, too? Patriotism doesn’t mean being proud of your country unconditionally. It means being proud because you’re in a country that warrants your pride.
It is simply sick that the United States allows laws to be passed, albeit thinly veiled, that discriminate against black people, especially those with lower incomes, being able to vote, move to districts with better education systems, have better access to jobs and healthy food, and raise their children safely. Many black families thrive in spite of the limitations and challenges placed on them, but it’s not without fighting a system designed to hold them back. Are we fucking serious, here?
I say all this as a privileged white girl who was once mugged at gunpoint by a black man. I know the support and environment I had growing up were different from his; I know his life clearly couldn’t have been easy; I know this troubled person wasn’t representative of everyone who shares his skin color.
I say all this as a privileged white girl who grew up in a town known for self-segregation, a town in which someone at my private school once sincerely asked me, “Why did you leave the public school? Too many black folks?” (Hence the start of my homeschooling and urgent exodus to college.)
I say this as a privileged white girl who recently had a tough conversation with her husband about whether to move to a better school district, and neither of us could stomach living in a homogenized neighborhood, being part of a “white flight” epidemic that is so profoundly unjustified and disgusting that we can’t imagine being lumped in with it.
I say this as a privileged white girl who, first and foremost, recognizes her inherent privilege and encourages others to do so. It’s only when you start to realize the daily shackles that are placed on those without your advantages that you realize where all the anger is coming from. And it’s only when you accept that you are given more than others that you can actively start to fight for them to receive the same as you.
P.S. I feel it important to note that I once said the words “all lives matter” publicly, not as a racist reaction to “black lives matter,” but as a pacifist. These killings of unarmed black men at the time had led to the shooting of several police officers, and it hurt my heart to see the completely justified anger of one group turn violent against another. I feared we were facing a civil war. I don’t agree with violent retaliation. I’m a flower-in-the-gun kind of girl. And I truly do believe that all lives matter. However, the reason we say that black lives matter isn’t to place one group of people on a pedestal over another. It’s because there’s already an inherent assumption in society that white lives matter, and if you can’t see that, you’ve got to merely open your eyes. We need to stress right now that just as we all know white lives matter… so do everyone else’s.