by Justin Rosario
White privilege has two components. The first is accruing the benefits of being white or, in other instances, the benefits of not being black. The other is not being aware of those benefits.
When the LAPD beat Rodney King to a pulp, I remember wondering why black people were upset. The guy was on drugs, right? They had to “pacify” him by stomping him into the ground! Like most white people, I was completely unaware that the police routinely used black people like pinatas. I kind of miss that total ignorance.
I wasn’t yet aware that black people are arrested, tried and convicted more often than white people for the same crimes. I wasn’t yet aware that black people receive longer prison sentences than white people for those same crimes. I wasn’t aware that unarmed black people are killed by the police at a phenomenally higher rate than unarmed whites. I wasn’t aware of any of it. I was safe and sound in my bubble of white privilege.
In my bubble, black criminals were always prominently displayed on the nightly news and in newspapers because most criminals were black. Duh! It never occurred to me that the media disproportionately showcased black criminals to reinforce the myth of black criminality.
In my bubble, store managers and corporate executives were mostly white because they were the best choice for the job. I had no idea that black people have to work twice as hard to receive half the recognition.
In my bubble, the President of the United States was always white because they were the most qualified. I had no idea being a brilliant black constitutional scholar was the electoral equivalent of being a rich white reality television star.
In my bubble, the police were there to protect and serve the public. Sure, sometimes they went bad but surely they were dealt with, right? Good cops would never stand for a “few bad apples” smearing their reputation.
Yet, over the last several years, the combination of cell phones and social media have made it nigh impossible to ignore the rampant violence the police visit on the black community. That inevitably led me to discover that the police essentially terrorize black communities with gems like “Stop and Frisk” and “Broken Windows” policing. That, in turn, led me to read up on how mass incarceration devastates black communities and how simply having a black-sounding name can hurt your chances at being hired.
A quick note to the conservatives that think they’re being cute when they claim they don’t know what a “black-sounding name” is: Fuck you. You’re not fooling anyone.
Every step on the path leading away from ignorance was progressively worse. I learned about “redlining”, the practice of denying black families the chance to buy homes in “nice” neighborhoods. Because of that step, I learned the origin of the thing about black people and Cadillacs. Denied the opportunity to buy a house, they bought nice cars instead because car dealers (eventually) only saw the color green. Hooray for progress.
And all the time my ignorance is being systematically demolished, the list of black victims grew: Eric Garland. Tamir Rice. Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, John Crawford III, and on and on and on it went.
It’s not like not knowing you have cancer; you may feel perfectly fine, or maybe you feel like you have a slight cold. Either way, you have no idea that something is wrong even as that something is quietly killing you. But once you get that diagnosis, it taints everything in your life. Even if you survive, you know that it’s always there, lurking under the surface.
But given the choice, would I really go back to not knowing? If I could take the blue pill, would I? It’s tempting to not see the horror of America n racism but, nah. Santa Claus isn’t real. The Easter Bunny doesn’t leave chocolate eggs for you. The Tooth Fairy is just your parents collecting your teeth. Black lives do not matter because America is racist as fuck and black people have been under assault since the founding of the United States.
It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me sad. It makes me angry. I wish it wasn’t true. But if I was afraid to face ugly truths, I wouldn’t be a liberal, I’d be a Trump-voting weasel watching Fox News so I’d feel better about being a racist.
Fuck my white privilege. Ignorance is easier but it doesn’t make me a better person.
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