I don’t necessarily like the term “white privilege.”
I use it because society has already accepted a universal, but flawed, definition of the word. Although many understand that whiteness, in and of itself, gifts one at birth with opportunities not afforded to people of color, I understand why many white people push back against the phrase.
There is no such thing as white privilege.
What we refer to as “privilege” is actually the reality that whites don’t have to overcome many of the obstacles faced by black people every day. Privilege is the freedom to live in any neighborhood you can afford. It is the advantage of getting a job based on your ability and education alone. It is the benefit of not looking like a menace when you wear a hoodie. It’s never being described as “suspicious” when you are simply existing. Privilege living is a country, a city or a neighborhood where you are never out of place.
White privilege is simply the absence of racism.
When people of no color face an obstacle, they are insulted when whiteness doesn’t work to their advantage. They consider the erasure of their birthright entitlement as an affront. Still, this is not their fault. Our society did this.
USA Today recently illustrated how this works on two consecutive days by publishing some carefully crafted white nonsense about the Covington Catholic varsity white supremacy squad, one of whose members, Nicholas Sandmann, recently filed a lawsuit against the Washington Post for defamation.
Stephen Crockett of The Root writes:
According to the lawsuit, which has been viewed by the Post, 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann, believes that he was “targeted and bullied” by the newspaper in order to embarrass President Trump.
“In a span of three days in January of this year commencing on January 19, the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child,” reads the complaint.
It added, “The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President.”
In Wednesday’s USA Today, Larry Strauss communicated this belief by writing about why the sweet little Covington kids deserved an apology, not because they were slandered, “but because they are children,” Strauss whitesplained. “And even if they did something offensive...they should not be subjected to the televised and publicized judgment of grownups.”
Strauss’ write-up was hands-off when it came to judging the offensiveness of the kids’ deeds and how those actions may have impacted others. His point was that they are only kids, and are supposed to be immature.
Strauss’ article followed a Tuesday opinion piece by Kirsten Powers, who wrote an open apology to the MAGA teens for burdening them with the responsibility of being accused of shit they actually did. Unlike Strauss, Powers admits that the teenagers “behaved disrespectfully,” but she says she believes that they “don’t deserve to have their entire lives defined by one day.”
Powers went on to offer another mea culpa to Trump supporters for calling them racist. Even though handing power and authority to a racist is unquestionably an act of racism, Powers explains that “one person is not responsible for the sins of everyone,” adding that: “People should not be treated as disposable and banished in perpetuity with no path to restoration with society.”
To be fair, Powers did note that black people don’t get the same latitude, writing:
I know there is a double standard when it comes to the benefit of the doubt in our culture. People of color, especially young black men, rarely receive the benefit of the doubt or context for their failings and can receive a literal death sentence as a result. I just don’t believe that refusing to provide white people the benefit of the doubt will right that wrong.
Oh, to be young, gifted and white.
Imagine if you will, living in a world and being protected by a system that handed you an endless supply of “Get Out of Everything Free” cards at birth. Whiteness is the Everlasting Gobstopper of excuses. It is an eternal mulligan and eraser of reality.
What Sandmann, Strauss and Powers want is admirable. They are not advocating for special entitlements only meant for white kids. They believe all kids should be afforded these rights, even though they know that black children never benefit from this default benevolence.
That is not privilege. That is proof.
It is proof that racism is so pervasive that even the idea of a white kid receiving a fraction of the treatment that black kids receive is unthinkable. It proves that white kids don’t actually get anything extra, they just never have to face the same barriers as black kids face. Whether you are black or white, we’re all running the same race. Some people just get to run in the lane that doesn’t have hurdles.
And whenever there is a tiny little hurdle in the white lane that might trip them up, they will cry foul and call the whole race unfair. Sandmann’s lawsuit doesn’t even accuse the Washington Post of lying, it just says the Post “bullied an innocent child with an absolute disregard for the pain and destruction its attacks would cause to his life” and states that “our society is dedicated to the protection of children regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs or the cap they wear.”
And through the bullet hole in his hoodie, Trayvon Martin whispers, “amen.”
There is nothing to see here. The idea that anyone—even children—“don’t deserve to have their entire lives defined by one day,” as Powers said, is some shit white people just made up for this specific case. If Larry Strauss truly believed what he wrote when he said: “People should not be treated as disposable and banished in perpetuity with no path to restoration with society,” at least one of his 12 books would have been about an entire population of children who are treated as disposable, who are banished from society in perpetuity.
But Sandmann, Strauss and Powers are right. Apologies are important. I too have criticized hapless Caucasians, so maybe I should apologize.
I’ll go last.
I’m going to wait until after media outlets apologize for using the most menacing pictures of Trayvon Martin. I’ll do it after I read the retractions from newspapers who said Mike Brown was shot in the aftermath of a robbery. As soon as Alabama’s attorney general rescinds his report saying that the cop who shot Emantic Bradford Jr. was being “reasonable” when he wrongfully assumed Bradford was an active shooter.
I will offer my sincerest apologies immediately following an apology from George Zimmerman, the FBI agents who came up with “black identity extremism,” the NFL, anyone who ever called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist group,” the NRA leaders who ignored the deaths of Bradford and Philando Castile, the cop who killed Philando Castile, Donald Trump, people who fly the Confederate flag, the creators of the War on Drugs, Tucker Carlson, Ronald Reagan’s ghost, white Jesus and white people who apologize to white people.
If apologies meant anything, I’d want one too.
I’d smear it on the face of my son to make him bulletproof. I’d throw it out of the windows of airplanes over black neighborhoods with inferior schools. I’d smuggle it into prisons and pass it out in courtroom lobbies. I’d drink it whenever I feared for my life.
If these writers truly believed what they wrote, then there are only two possibilities:
- Larry Strauss and Kirsten Powers are the alter egos of two secret superheroes who spend their nights quietly avenging police brutality, criminal justice disparities, the drug war, voter suppression and this acoustic remake of Notorious BIG’s “Juicy” or...
- They don’t believe black people are actually “people.”
One of those things has to be true. Because if Powers of Strauss believed their bullshit attempts at proactively pardoning all white kids, while watching black children receive a perpetual kick in the teeth, they wouldn’t have time to apologize...
They would be too busy burning this whole motherfucker to the ground.
When I was in high school, I took an Advanced Placement English class. The class was filled with the sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers and important people who lived in my small town. I remember how we’d have out-of-school study sessions and I would have to walk or arrange a ride because my mother didn’t drive and none of my white classmates lived near me, on the black side of town. Sometimes I couldn’t go because I had a job that paid for a lot of the things I did at school.
As the only black person in my school’s entire honors and AP program, I remember that I always wondered how some of those white kids got into that program. I can’t recall ever meeting a white person of extraordinary intelligence or ability. I know a lot of smart white people, but never anyone who was remarkably smarter than any of the black people I know.
I remember how I just skipped a session because there was no way I could ask my mother for $125 to take the sample exam. I remember creating my own sample test by listening to the class discuss the test. I remember how everyone in that class had a car and none of them had to figure out how to team up with their sisters to create a rotating check-out scheme at the city library so they wouldn’t have to burden their mothers by asking for money for the required reading material.
All year, the teacher reminded us that she had only taught one other student who got a four out of a possible five (and no one gets a five) on the AP exam. Everyone assumed one of our classmates, Elizabeth, would be the second person. Elizabeth didn’t have to struggle to buy the books. She could pay for sample tests. She had a car to drive to study sessions while I was walking. She didn’t have a weekend and an after-school job like me. To prepare, she took three different sample tests, more than $100. Plus, Elizabeth was smart. I, too, figured she would get a four.
She didn’t get a four. She got a five, which is remarkable because, as I said, no one gets a five (except Elizabeth, of course)...
On paper, my score was the same as the girl who prepared like hell. Neither Elizabeth’s wealth nor her whiteness answered a single question for her. The fact that she came from a family of doctors didn’t give her an advantage on that test. She was smart.
I don’t consider myself a victim, nor do I believe that Elizabeth was afforded a few extra points because of her skin color. It’s not her fault that I had to jump hurdles and overcome more obstacles than she did. She still earned that five.
Some would call that privilege.
Black people call it “reality.”