A really awesome essay I just read. Here are my callouts:
Here’s what angers me the most, though: It’s that you can’t see, or refuse to see, that this distinction between intent and impact is the very same distinction to which you appeal when you blame Trayvon for his own murder or when you blame rape victims for their own rapes. You are saying, in effect, Trayvon may not have meant to get shot, but he should have known that wearing his hoodie up like that would make him look threatening to the world. He should have known better. How is that not the same distinction? Why do you get to use this distinction against Trayvon, an innocent child, without anyone getting to use it against you when you try to explain away the actions of the man who killed him? Why? Why does Trayvon or any other person of color have to carry cognitive and volitional burdens you don’t? Why are your comfort and ease and your precious feelings and your ability to mouth off whenever you want about whatever you want so damned important? Why do black kids have to learn to pay for your peace of mind and self-esteem by having to worry about whether what they are wearing might contribute to them getting hunted down in the street? Why is this a privilege you get and he doesn’t? Why can’t you see that this is as blatantly unfair as saying that some spaces are whites only? Why?
In case you’re wondering folks, that is what white privilege is.
Some of you may be thinking, “Brian, you’re not just saying that everyone has to be mindful of what they say and think. You’re saying that as a white person I have to be on my guard in a way people of color don’t. You’re saying I have a heavier burden to carry in this respect than they do.” Actually I doubt many of you would put it so carefully. Usually you– not all of you, not going to name names, you will know who you are–simply cry, “reverse racism!”, then fold your arms and think you’ve made your point. Except you’re simply wrong about this. Notice I didn’t say that we have a difference of opinion about this. You are just wrong. A young black man walking down the street wearing a hoodie is just not inherently threatening, unless, of course, you insist on seeing it that way, and that says more about you than it does the man. Saying and thinking “young black men wearing hooded sweatshirts look threatening,” though, perpetuates the notion that young black men just are threatening. The social facts are simply different on either side in a way that tracks a differential distribution of power. Also, let’s not forget the fact that if we are keeping score on who bears the heavier burdens overall under systemic racism, white folks can bear this burden and still come out way ahead.
Goes for most of my readers too!
We white folks do have a big burden to carry in this one respect, it’s true. We have to be very careful and mindful in discussions of race. But this is not the fault of people of color. At all. What is at fault is the fact that the situations in which we find ourselves are constructed in racist ways that give us privileges we haven’t earned. What white folks should be upset about is the racist legacy left to us by our own forbears. We find ourselves in situations where ignorance is bliss and knowledge is sometimes painful. We have to do hard work, because we can get by just fine by looking the other way; we have to sacrifice time and comfort. After doing so, we might still feel awkward. This work isn’t easy.