By Brian Dann
I am white. Honestly, I don’t really think about it much, being white that is. Being white really has not been much of a problem for me in my life, in America. No one has ever looked at me with suspicion because I’m white, or pulled me over in a wealthy neighborhood because I’m white, or denied me a place to live, because I’m white. I’ve never lost a job interview, because I’m white, or been asked why so many of us white guys are standing around together, because we’re white. No one has ever crossed the street to walk on the other side when they see me coming, because I’m white, or refused to serve me, because I’m white. And no one has ever wondered why I am walking around their neighborhood, a neighborhood where my father also lives, pursuing me even though the police said not too, while calling me a racial slur, and shot me in the head, killing me…and then claim self defense because they think a box of Skittles and an Ice tea are dangerous weapons…because I’m white. Honestly, that just doesn’t happen to us white guys, and I’ve come to learn that there’s a name for that, White Privilege. Now I didn’t make this up, it really exists, and if you’re not white, you’re thinking to yourself, no joke it exists, because if you are black in this country, what happened to Trayvon Martin, is the fear of every black mother and father in this country, that their son or daughter, or even themselves, will be harassed, discriminated against or even killed, because of no other reason than they are black. If Trayvon was white, this would not have happened.
Personally I never heard of White Privilege until the tragedy of Trayvon Martin. I knew that as a white person in America there were obviously some situations in life that I did not have to deal with, some ways in which society reacted towards me that was different then how they may react towards a black person, but I lived my life never giving it much thought as probably most white people do. I never heard it defined before with the term White Privilege. But before I even heard what the actual definition of what White Privilege was, I knew instantly that the phrase fit, it just made sense. As a liberal, progressive white person, I sometimes like to think that things have gotten so much better in this country. I like to think that because I don’t tend to make color an issue in my own life, because I prefer my kids to be in a school that is more culturally diverse, because I teach my kids to treat all people equally regardless of any differences, because I just don’t encounter the type of prejudice that many black people encounter on a daily basis, and I don’t usually give it much though as to why, I’ve come to falsely believe, as many have, that things have changed. And while we have come a long way in the way of civil rights in this country, the tragedy of Trayvon Martin is a stark reminder that serious, unjust discrimination still exists in this county. And the fact that I don’t encounter these daily acts of prejudice, and I don’t have ongoing fears of being harassed, beat up, or even killed because of the color of my skin means that by default, I have White Privilege, whether I like it or not. And while some may think that having Privilege is something good, in this case it means that we have very far to go in this country before the dream of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will be fully realized.
Now let there be no misunderstanding. I have been discriminated against in my life. I am Jewish. I have experienced blatant outright ugly discrimination against me for no other reason than I am Jewish. I experienced kids who teased and beat me up on the playground while they called me Jew boy. I had a co-worker make blatant, anti Jewish remarks that were so offensive the non Jews in the office complained. He was fired. But the difference is that while some people may be able to look at me and think because of some facial features, I may be Jewish, it’s not as evident as the color of a black person’s skin. I have never been pulled over in Highland Park, Illinois because I looked Jewish, but a co-worker of mine was pulled over in Highland Park, Illinois because he was black. I have White Privilege, because of no fault of my own. When I enter a store, no one is going to wonder if I might steal something. I can be assured that I will be treated well at almost any restaurant I go to, and if I travel to certain parts of the south, unless they find out I’m Jewish, and last time I checked I was not wearing a gold Jewish star anywhere on my clothing, no one will harass me. I have White Privilege, but unlike most privilege, this is not something to be proud of. What it means is that our country, because of decades of legalized slavery, because of decades of legalized segregation in both the north and south, because of civil rights legislations that while they were an enormous sign of progress and long over due when they were past, they have also made us complacent. The laws were passed to de-institutionalize discrimination in this country, but many of the attitudes have remained, and because it is now easy to point at the law and say “well it’s now illegal”, we have stopped putting forth the effort to change what was at the core of the prejudice in the first place, the fear, the ignorance and the misunderstanding.
I recently asked my friends on Facebook what they believe White Privilege to be. I was hoping to get responses mostly from the black people I am friends with simply because I wanted their perspective that as a white man I could never have. One wonderful woman, Shawn, who I met on my trip to Australia in December 2010, said “I believe it to be an overall conclusion that you are…trust worthy, right, better, more beautiful, deserve more respect, and not held to the same standards as non whites.” She then went on to say, “And with that said, I think it’s all crap. I don’t believe that anyone is better than me. I am simply amazing. Believe that.” I do believe that. I believe that Shawn is simply amazing as are all of us. I believe that the color of our skin should never give us privilege over someone else. I believe that a country where a man can shoot a seventeen year old boy in the head because of the color of his skin, who is carrying nothing but an Ice tea and a bag of Skittles, and not get arrested, and hide behind a ridiculous law that let him claim self defense, and have the police dismiss the entire situation, says more about the failure of our society as a whole, then it does about this one individual man who killed out of hate and ignorance. I believe that we have much more work to do then just bringing this one man to justice and having him pay for his crime. I believe we must use this crime as a call to action to reform attitudes in this country so that Trayvon Martin’s life has meaning and so that his parents who were so proud of their son can continue to be proud of him. As our President said "I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this, I think about my own kids…If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.”Trayvon does look like our President, and just think how much it must have meant to Trayvon to see someone who looks like him become president. That is not something this President could ever say about me. I am white.