Remember February? When we could still go to work? When we could still go . . . anywhere at all? After less than a month, that feeling of personal freedom is already starting to fade–and I don’t like it one bit.
Like so many other challenges, though, the situation we’ve all found ourselves in is providing me with some Aha Moments. You know what those are: the lightbulb comes on, either spontaneously while you’re in the shower or as a result of something you’ve heard or read. Aha Moments can be super cool, but they can also be super uncomfortable. For me, lately, they’ve been the latter.
What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is this: my White privilege (or “White lady fairy dust,” as we jokingly call it in our department on campus) allows me to feel resentful about not being able to do what I want when I want, where I want to do it. But get this: Black and Brown folks have to think about this every day–not just sheltering in place during a global pandemic.
Every day, Black and Brown folks worry about being pulled over by the cops on their way to or from the grocery store. Every day, Black and Brown folks worry about being shot in a Wal*Mart because they were holding a BB gun they took off the shelf. Every day, Black and Brown folks worry about their Black and Brown kids being the target of bullying–or far worse. Every day, everywhere, Black and Brown folks know they’re being scrutinized more closely than White folks. Every day, Black and Brown folks wonder if they’ll be targeted for something.
Yeah. They do. And what you may not realize is that most Black and Brown folks adjust their behavior accordingly to mitigate the potential of something bad happening. And they tell their kids to do the same thing.
My White privilege protects me from this. If you’re White, it protects you too. I’m not saying White privilege doesn’t feel good–it does, because it allows me to not have to think or worry about things Black and Brown folks think and worry about. If you look up the word, you’ll see what I mean:
a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group
Yes, privilege feels mighty good indeed–but it feels icky too, because it comes at the expense of those who don’t get to enjoy it as well.
So, what can White folks do about it?
- Acknowledge it’s there. Know that you’re not a shitty person for admitting it. You didn’t actively request White privilege; if you’re White, it just happened. You know, because you’re White.
- Want to do something about it. Why would you want to change the status quo? Because it’s unfair, and it’s been that way for a long, looonnnng time.
- Gently point out to other White people that White privilege is a thing. I say “gently” because we’re not very good at hearing this, much less accepting it as truth.
- Actively read, participate and learn. Your local NAACP chapter is a great place to start.
- Journal your journey. Or blog it, whatever works.
I’m not sure how we’re all going to come out the other end of this pandemic. My optimism comes and goes. I haven’t started day drinking yet, which I guess is a good thing. And I’m trying to feel a lot more appreciation for what I do have (a home, Loving Husband, Happy Dog, One-Eyed Wonderpug and their feline step siblings) and less anger and resentment about being told not to go anywhere.
But it isn’t easy.