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“Nobody gave me anything.”
I have heard variations of this statement recently, as race has been a topic of national conversation. The statement, intended to disprove the concept of white privilege, indicates blindness toward racial reality. It’s like the speaker conceives of white privilege in the terms of the old Saturday Night Live skit “White Like Me,” where Eddie Murphy (who prepped at being white by reading a lot of Hallmark cards) discovered a secret world where white people gave enormous amounts of money to each other when blacks weren’t around.
What does white privilege really mean? For me, it means I don’t have to think about race or be aware of my race anytime I don’t want to. I go shopping, out to eat, see a concert, go to church and walk around my neighborhood without ever leaving my racial comfort zone.
It means no one has ever sought my opinion as a representative of white people everywhere.
It means I have not been stopped by a police officer in over a decade. It means when I do get stopped it’s for a justifiable reason and there’s a good chance I’ll be given a verbal warning and sent on my way.
It means I do not have to be cross-cultural to be successful.
It means I have never been followed by a security officer in a store.
It means the pictures in the history books I read in school were of people like me.
It means I can live anywhere I want.
It means African-American and Latino people never point out to me that they have white friends.
It means that when I’ve interviewed for jobs and not gotten them I’ve always understood it had to do with things like relevant experience and job fit. I’ve never suspected another agenda.
It means that my ancestor who was sent to the American colonies as an indentured servant worked a few years to get his freedom and then easily assimilated into life on these shores. It means his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond have been free to pursue whatever life appealed to them.
It means I have never wondered why someone didn’t rent a hotel room to me.
It means Band-Aids match my skin color.
It means I have never been invited to sit on a board or join a leadership team to fill an unnamed quota.
It means I have never been complimented for my ability to speak articulately.
It means I do not worry that my son is going to be murdered.
It means Santa Claus and Superman and almost every picture I’ve seen of Jesus are the same color as me.
It means that although members of my family have run afoul of the criminal justice system, no one has used the words “thug” or “gangster” in reference to my family. The member of my family who recently was released from prison is someone who made a mistake, has paid his debt to society, and has the rest of his life ahead of him. He is not typical, hopeless or a product of the system.
It means I’ve always found what I like at the grocery store without having to go to the “ethnic” aisle.
It means when my children received free money it was called financial aid instead of welfare and although this free money was handed to them, it was not a handout.
It means in my lifetime Crayola changed the name of “flesh” crayons to “peach.”
It means more than 90% of the people I saw in popular culture growing up looked like me.
“Nobody gave me anything.” I doubt that’s ever true, but to the extent that it is, what you always did receive was a fair chance. I’ve lived confident that I have a fair chance. I’d be exhausted living any other way.
In recent weeks I have been considering much of what you said here in various contexts, especially as it relates to the multitude of churches that I can walk into and feel comfortable. But, it is your final sentences, “I’ve lived confident that I have a fair chance. I’d be exhausted living any other way,” that have given me a perspective I had not considered. The image of struggling to live without a fair chance, or having to spend a lifetime fighting for one, and the exhaustion that much accompany such striving is quite a painful image, yet one I needed to see. Thank you.