On Racism and White Privilege
Even as a writer, there are times when I struggle to use my voice. Mostly, I'm hesitant because I don't want to be confused for someone who's speaking about an experience that is not my own: Blackness, oppression, grave injustice and inequality. Sure, I am a gay woman, so I am no stranger to the injustices of being gay or a woman, inequities that increase tenfold in combination with one another. But I am white and feminine enough, making it so that my struggles are dim in comparison to many others.
I must apologize for not being vocal earlier - at least at the level at which is necessary. It is our duty within our privilege to use our voices to try and advocate against injustices. Silence is just another form of oppression.
It's important to state that this post is not for Black people. By all means, keep reading, but this is all information you're very much privy to. Instead, this post is for White people, aimed at shining a light on some of the systems White America upholds, enforces, enables, and benefits from; institutions I believe much of White America is ignorant to.
I've had numerous interactions with fellow White folks who seem to not understand their place of power and privilege, sometimes insinuating, and sometimes flat out saying that Black folks "just have to try a little harder and they'll be just fine." Inherit in statements like this is a lack of understanding of the systems that have been in place for decades that continuously stunt the fair and equal chance for Black communities to prosper. While I do not think that articles like this -- because plenty have been written -- can solve the deep-rooted and systemic issue of racism in this country, I do believe that forward movement in conjunction with awareness, education, and mindfulness can enact real change.
After reading this, I do not implore you to pity the Black community. Quite the contrary. One does not pity potential greatness. Instead, I implore you to enable and advocate for their prosperity. I do not ask that you advocate for Black people because they are Black, because it is "hip" or "current." These are the same notions that White people use to excuse themselves of racism, citing their one Black friend. To subscribe to a movement simply because it is posh or fashionable is to tokenize the same group you are advocating for. Instead, I ask that you advocate for Black people because equality is fair and righteous. Because every day we live in a continued power struggle, where one group gorges themselves, proclaiming that the days of racism and inequality are long behind us, we commit a grave injustice to society at large. Diversity should not just be reflected in a population, but in the voices, minds, and ideas that are fostered and celebrated. In our outright refusal to properly consider our past, we are unable to consider our present, thrusting ourselves into an all too familiar future.
We are eternally better because of Roxanne Gay, Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee, Jackie Robinson, Ella Baker, Lena Waithe, Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, Barack Obama, Ava Duvernay, Madam C.J. Walker, Oprah Winfrey -- thank God for the rest, the people who persevered, created, and advocated when every odd was against them. To those who never got a chance to speak. To those who are struggling to find footing for their ideas now. The world is a worse place due to the forced silence of Black voices and minds, past and present. Go read James Baldwin and dwell in the dichotomy that is wishing we had more of him and understanding minds like his seldom touch down to earth.
The world we would live in if equality wasn't a power struggle. If equality wasn't a struggle at all.
I do not want to have to do this. Truthfully, I find it deplorable that the rhetoric surrounding race is what it is in our country. I wish this knowledge was ingrained in us all, but it's very clear that isn't the case. So while I do not have a formal education in History, I do remember a thing or two (as well as have access to Google and the world around me). In consideration of that, please feel free to dig deeper into this research (it's really your civic duty).
On White Privilege, Oppression, Silence and Systemic, Institutionalized Racism
Even if you are not a White person in power, you have power. Moreover, you have privilege unlike any other race. Privilege does not undermine your own personal struggles, but it does allow for a greater ease of life in combatting those struggles. Privilege does not just pertain to class, education, or professional status. For example, if I went to Arkansas and sat at a bar with my girlfriend--if we kissed--we might face verbal or physical assault. If a cis-heterosexual couple sat at the same bar, they would not even ponder the thought. There is privilege in the safety and acceptance of heterosexuality. Another example is a man walking to his car late at night with his head held high, while a woman walks to her car late at night with her keys between her knuckles. The man's natural safety in his gender is privilege. Another case of privilege is a White man being able to safely jog in his neighborhood, while a Black man is immediately seen as a suspect in a crime and is subsequently shot and killed.
Like many of us, I see gruesome acts of violence and racism every day - some filmed, some written about and recounted, some broadcasted in court and on the news, later to be adapted into a show we all can't stop binge-watching. Within these displays, many of us can forget micro-aggressions, or less obviously violent acts of oppression and racism. These statements may seem harmless, usually to those saying them, but they aid in upholding an environment where racism and inequality run rampant. For instance, responding to the fact that Black Americans have a higher unemployment rate than White Americans, or the fact that they are paid less in every professional path with, "Well, they just aren't applying themselves enough." Or "I (as a White person) came from nothing and worked hard to get where I am. They can do it too." These micro-aggression statements are filled with large generalizations lacking in evidence, proof, or facts. They're dangerous ideas to harbor and perpetuate.
Yes, there are ample White Americans who have pulled themselves from poverty, who have faced seemingly insurmountable struggles and still persevered. But what many White Americans ignore is the very characteristic that helped enable that prosper: their whiteness.
Stating that Black Americans are not working hard enough to "free" themselves from disenfranchisement is removing the blame from White America for having disenfranchised them in the first place. To think that slavery ended racism is not just strongly misguided, it is an outright refusal to acknowledge the cold, hard truth. We still see the effects of slavery and Jim Crow-era laws and behaviors every single day.
**It does not matter if your ancestors did not own slaves. Or if they did, it does not matter if they are long dead. You, as a White person, still benefit from the systems that slavery upheld and created. And to paint a divide between you and your ancestors is to brush off your responsibility as a White person to help fix the problem.**
Voter suppression is a real and present issue, a Jim-Crow era horror that we apparently haven't learned to shake. Certain states have strict photo ID requirements in order to vote, and Black voters are less likely to have said identification. At present, these states are Wisconsin, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia. While Wisconsin is considered a swing state, and Virginia has been more Democrat-leaning in recent elections, every other state is considered a Republican safe ground. A 2018 study by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that 86% of Black respondents were not satisfied with how things are going in this country. However, if the Black vote is suppressed, we are unable to see changes as a result of their voting patterns.
People will say, "Well, why not just get photo ID?" But that requires your paperwork being in order (even a name change can inhibit this process), money to fork over if it isn't, and time and distance to travel in order to fix it.
Now if you have proper ID, that doesn't mean your polling station hasn't been closed down (which has happened across many states throughout the country in recent years). For example, "15 of Georgia’s 159 counties are left with one precinct where all Election Day voters must cast their ballots." If you have one place to go and vote, your ability to get there is dependent on time and ease of transportation. If you do not have a car, your chances of getting there are cut significantly. If you are reliant on public transportation (a far cry in many rural towns), your ability to be able to vote is contingent on being able to get off work for an entire day in order to travel there, an opportunity less viable for many Black employees. Most of the polling places closed were in impoverished neighborhoods, heightening all the aforementioned obstacles. If you're thinking something like, "Well, if there's a will, there's a way," you should really be thinking, "Why the hell are we making it so hard to vote to begin with?"
All that being said, Black voter turnout is the highest of marginalized groups, very close to the percentage of White voters. That does not disprove my point. Rather, it disproves the very rampant lie that Black people do not turn out to vote. They do. We just make it incredibly difficult for many of them. The purpose in that being that if we made it easy and accessible for everyone to vote, we might very well see a significant change in current government. (In so many words, I'm saying that many Republicans would lose their seats).
Housing/Neighborhood Inequality and Displacement
There is a reason White folks take over most of the pages in our history books. And it is not because White people are inherently more intelligent, driven, or capable than Black people (or anyone else), but because somewhere ingrained in Whiteness is a sense of entitlement. As James Baldwin said, "it is on the fact or the hope or the myth of Power that that identity which calls itself White has always seemed to depend."
It is within this "power" that Europeans descended on already-populated "newly discovered land," referring to its land-dwellers as "savages." It appears that within this, the saying went, "Let us break bread...before we violently force you off your land." (For these purposes, "European" can coincide with "White," both identities laced with power and privilege, especially in that time period).
The seemingly simple act of telling our children that Christopher Columbus discovered America does so much, but at its core, it erases the validity of Indigenous people. To say that what Christopher Columbus did (slaughtered, raped, and displaced) was discovery is, well, pretty fucking American, I suppose. But, really, it wholly finds Indigenous people unworthy and White people worthy, simply for existing.
If you are thinking to yourself, I can't imagine being forcibly displaced by the government or large corporations, then you are White. We are still enforcing displacement every single day with gentrification: going into Black and marginalized neighborhoods, popping in a few hipster coffee shops, and then buying real estate, remodeling, and hiking up rent prices so that the Black families we displaced in order to remodel their homes, could not possibly afford to move back in or stay nearby. (Williamsburg didn't always have a Madewell or artisan cheese shops). This is a system that, because of my Whiteness, I directly benefit from.
The systems that uphold gentrification are not new. Post-slavery, in the days of Reconstruction, there were many laws enabling the discrimination of Black people in their efforts to become homeowners. In fact, the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 was signed in order to guarantee mortgages to World War II Veterans. However, the law also allowed for the discrimination of Black veterans, making it so that many banks were able to deny potential Black homeowners mortgages (one of many laws pertaining to homeownership and mortgages that allowed for such discrimination). Homeownership and wealth are very closely correlated in this country, and it should come as no shock that White households hold "10 times more wealth than the typical Black household." These laws forced Black people into renting apartments and homes instead, an act that more typically occurs in urban landscapes. Meaning, in the mid-1900s, White people were flocking to suburbia, while Black people were forced to halt potential growth and progress, unable to accumulate wealth at the same rate as their White counterparts because of decades of systematic racism that prevented them from certain jobs, homeownership, savings, and higher education. (There was a time in the not-so-distant past when it was legal to discriminate against potential employees based on their race, which gravely limited job opportunities for Black Americans. In many states today, this is an issue the LGBTQ+ community still faces. [Insert quote here about never learning our lesson]).
Because neighborhoods became "White" and "Black" while Black prosperity was being rigorously restricted, these neighborhoods also became "wealthy" and "poor." Meaning, schools, community organizations, recreational centers, parks, etc. were funded significantly less in Black neighborhoods than in White (another phenomena we still see today). What I mean to say is, Black people were, and many still are, forced to go to lower-funded schools, have less access to community-based organizations, and were/are, therefore, less likely to enter job forces that ensure their financial safety and security. It seems Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren's Brown v. Board of Education decision still rings true: "separate but equal is inherently unequal."
Poverty and Incarceration
Now we get into the crime rate territory and why Black men "constitute 6 percent of the US adult population but are approximately 35 percent of the prison population and are incarcerated at a rate six times that of white males." It is not because crime is a race issue, but rather that crime is a poverty issue: If poverty is combatted in both White and Black neighborhoods, there is a clear diminishment of crime in both neighborhoods. Crime is more likely in Black neighborhoods because poverty is more likely. Which is a major fault of White government and historical disenfranchisement of Black communities. (See the section above). Therefore, the higher incarceration rate of Black men is semi-explained, without delving too deeply into the fact that Black people are also sentenced more harshly than White offenders. Google how many Black people are in prison for low level drug offenses and then slap your White son on the wrist when you find his weed stash. It's about the same thing. (Or try and tell me Brock Turner would be home right now if he was Black).
If we incarcerate Black communities at higher rates than White communities because of systematic racism and inequality structures, then we continue to halt their prosperity. I am not saying that crime should be ignored. However, I am saying that fair and equal sentencing should be employed, while understanding and changing the systems in place that create poverty and crime-prone environments. Such levels of incarceration are also restricting their right to vote, further diminishing the Black voice from being heard, since, in most states, federal offenders are not permitted to vote. Which seems really consistent with the whole "serve your sentence and then you're done!" mentality.
The Consistent Erasure of Black Importance, Safety, and Livelihood
We are consistently upholding structures that harm Black communities. If you, for one second, think that unarmed Black people are shot by police (or civilians) at a higher rate than White people for any reason other than racism, you are strongly misguided. I often see it cited that Black people are shot and killed at a higher rate by police and vigilante citizens because Black people are more likely to commit crimes. Reread that sentence. And then think to yourself, What The Entire Fuck. The same people who say this, also ardently state the importance of innocent before proven guilty. You simply cannot believe in both ideas. These are the same thoughts and ideas that classify a group of White people as a "protest," and a group of Black people as a "riot." Could we imagine police shooting White men in a routine traffic stop, all while society grimaces and says, "Well, they are more likely to be the culprit of a mass shooting." No. We can't. Because we're able to classify the White man as a lone wolf, a standalone from his race.
In 2015, "Unarmed Black people were killed at 5x the rate of unarmed whites." Please let that sentence sink in. Let me also state that I come from a long line of admirable police officers. Men that got on the job for the right reasons and performed their duties safely, fairly, and righteously. And I am aware that people make mistakes. That I can never understand the pressure of a moment when you feel your life might be in danger. However, I can, as clear as day, see when racism affects how a person might fear for their life. Moreover, I know there are police officers who wear their uniforms for all the wrong reasons. No one can denounce the fact that many of the deceased were involved in altercations with the police or "vigilantes." The issue being that force of that caliber should not be utilized where the amount of force is not equal. Especially if that force would not be utilized as freely on a White person. Not convicting police officers for this unnecessary force against Black people is what perpetuates these conditions. But worse than that, it upholds century-old ideas and institutions that say Black people don't matter. We are bringing children up in this world.
It goes even deeper than that, especially in the case of Ahmaud Arbery and cases like him. The use of stand your ground and self-defense arguments in these situations are...archaic at best. But when we look at Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Markeis McGlockton, and others, we're forced to take into question the vigilante laws in place that allow for the White man at fault to get away with it (half-White in the case of George Zimmerman). The ways in which these arguments are used in court -- the ways they work -- are egregious. Point blank, their successful usage in cases where the victim was unarmed, paints a clear picture of an America where Black safety and livelihood are contingent on not inciting fear in White people. [Please imagine how often a Black person has been fearful of a White person throughout history, and then ponder a world where a Black person shoots a White person out of "fear" and gets away with it. It is an alternative Universe that does not exist]. Moreover, it paints a picture of an America where White folks are allowed to be trigger-happy racists (subconscious or not), able to claim that they were fearing for their life, even in the most minimal of interactions.
Markeis McGlockton was shot outside of a convenience store by Michael Drejka, after he parked in a handicap spot and shoved Drejka. There are people who will read that sentence and say, "Well, he shoved Drejka, which probably made him fear for his life and shoot him." What. In what world does being shoved in a public, convenience store parking catalyze a shooting? You know what Drejka could've done? Ran away. But instead, he shot McGlockton in front of his children and girlfriend. I'm not saying McGlockton should've shoved Drejka. I'm saying a Black man shouldn't be dead for it.
Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a man who had followed Martin as he suspected him for criminal activity. Zimmerman was told by police to not pursue Martin, to which he did not listen. Zimmerman was allegedly beaten up by Martin, and shot him while Martin was on top of him. In this case, Zimmerman, who argued that he couldn't have retreated in the moment, used a self-defense case in court and won. Martin was 17-years-old. Many Zimmerman supporters uphold the idea that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, saying that Martin was acting aggressively. Seldom do we see the White community state that Martin, an unarmed teenager who was on the phone with his girlfriend, had been acting in self-defense against an armed, strange, older White man. The aftermath and the rhetoric surrounding these events are everything. After his acquittal, Zimmerman was accused of two separate counts of domestic abuse. All in all making him sound like a very upstanding citizen.
Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was pursued and shot by a White father and son who suspected he was a burglary suspect. He was unarmed, on a jog, and was not the suspect. This event occurred in February and the two men involved in the shooting were arrested in May. Their defense will likely be stand your ground and/or self-defense, a wild wild thing to use in court. Two White men with a gun needed to defend themselves with that gun against an unarmed Black man. What an idea.
But the deeper point is this: even if Arbery had been the burglar, even if he had been running down the street with pearls, gold, silver, and jewels hanging from his body, he should still be alive. If we seem to believe in a justice system that upholds rehabilitation and second chances, then we must guarantee that for all peoples.
Another thing we need to focus on is that it took months for the McMichaels to be arrested because a video of the shooting needed to go viral and people needed to share Arbery's photo on social media, calling for the McMichaels' arrests. Take a moment to ponder the cases not caught on video. In other words, take a moment to ponder the Black people who have been shot by White people that we do not know about, the amount of White people who have gotten away with murder. Now, consider the fact that we have left the judicial system for Black people up to social media campaigns. Sure, we're all grateful for the ability to use our freedom of speech on a mass scale, but should we need to utilize it for this? The McMichaels should've been arrested at the crime scene. That's it.
What You Can Do Now
There's a lot I haven't covered, but I hope the relative conciseness of this post conveys a larger message: Regardless of what you might feel about the current state of things, factually, there are institutions in place that are racist and harmful to our society at large. As a White person, it is your duty to help combat those institutions.
So, what can we do? Speak up. Educate yourself. Lend a hand. Raise your children to see color, but to not see a problem with it. Advocate for your Black neighbors. Ask how best to do that. Take criticism well and adapt. Rigorously defend the Black community. Recognize your fuckin' privilege. Tell one another when you cross a line. Educate one another. Change. Advocate for the life of another like your life depends on it.
Say their names:
William Chapman II
This list is by no means exhaustive.
"Until we are free, none of us are free." - Emma Lazarus