I have seldom thought about the incalculable privileges I enjoy as a white American. Yet, as some of our nation’s cities teeter on the edge of anarchy with rioting, burning and looting spurred by racial strife, I am considering the benefit of being white in America. I’m white. I’m educated. I live in a middle class suburb. I don’t think of it as privilege. It’s just normal.
The closest I can come to identifying with minorities is my experiences living in Mexico and Honduras. In both those cultures, I was the random white person in a sea of brown faces. Sometimes it was a disadvantage to be white although most times it was an advantage.
Being white made me a target for police harassment in both countries. Driving while white made me a target for corrupt cops who wanted bribes. I have been stopped multiple times by traffic cops while in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Not once was I given a ticket or even had the semblance of one being written up. It was all about hassling a “rich” white person for a bribe.
Fortunately most of the time, being white helped me in Mexico and Honduras. Being white meant I had greater status generally speaking, especially among the poor. The vestiges of colonialism live on in subtle ways south of the border. Being white gave me status and privilege in ways I sometimes saw directly and other times, I know were just indirect from being a citizen of the most powerful and richest nation on earth.
Aside from small inconveniences of being hassled while driving, I haven’t thought much about what it means to be a racial minority. At least until I saw a video this week of a white man kneeling on the neck of a black man on a street in Minneapolis as the life drained from the victim’s body. The black man on the ground said, “I can’t breathe.” Yet, the cop appeared completely casual, looking like he was waiting for a lunch order, perfectly at ease as he squeezed the life out of a man as he knelt on his neck until he died.
It’s time that we, as white Americans, realize the truth that white privilege is real and ingrained in our society. Whites enjoy higher levels of income, higher levels of education, and better heath outcomes. We live longer than our black counterparts. Black people disproportionally fill our prisons and jails. Black persons are less likely to have a high school or college diploma. They disproportionally serve in low wage jobs. They live often in segregated neighborhoods.
When I see on social media the push back from people who resist the slogan, Black Lives Matter by countering with All Lives Matter, I get defensive. Don’t they see that until we can say without objection that Black Lives Matter, we don’t have the privilege of saying All Lives Matter? To me, it’s just another example of asserting white privilege in insisting on saying All Lives Matter rather than Black Lives Matter.
When we say All Lives Matter, aren’t we just affirming the status quo? The status quo is not good enough any longer. First, we must right the wrongs in the black community. Then we can say we are all equal.