Thoughts on White Privilege

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.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on White Privilege

  1. Thank you for a nicely written post (as usual).

    I agree that the phrase “all lives matter” is a disingenuous cop-out that attempts to minimize the specific suffering, such as police brutality, and generally disadvantaged lives, of African Americans.

    Such injustices are coming to surface now, again, when we read that a widely disproportionate numbers of African Americans are dying from the Covid-19 pandemic, in states like Michigan and Illinois. Why should that be? When the pandemic is under control (I hope soon) will we address those glaring inequities?

    Another cop-out is the white male grievance against the promotion of “diversity” in all areas of American society, as no more than empty “political correctness.” It isn’t. Not too long ago, for example, all branches of American government were populated exclusively by white male Protestants.

    That we now see women, people of color (and even a gay man!), and people of different faiths, running for office, and getting elected, is not a politically correct aberration but a recognition that in a pluralistic democracy all folks are entitled to participate, not just members of the privileged castes.

    As far as Mexico, there are also vast differences between whites (“guëros”) and the darker morenos with indigenous blood, who are the majority of the population. But that’s another story.

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  2. “As far as Mexico, there are also vast differences between whites (“guëros”) and the darker morenos with indigenous blood.” I didn’t have time to discuss that aspect of whiteness in this column. I remember a conversation with a Honduran woman, incidentally named Blanca, who told me in front of her youngest son, ” What a shame that Brayan is my only dark child.” Of all her children, he was the most courteous. Light or dark didn’t matter to me – Brayan was a genuinely nice kid.

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  3. Well put.

    I must confess, though, thar I am one of those people who uses the phrase “All lives matter” — because that is the very core of Jesus’s teachings. For that reason, my use of the term is not reactionary, it is inclusory.

    I fear that any phrase that exacerbates the toxicity of identity politics will continue to send us down paths that cater to our worst natures.

    Having said that, I know we can do better in treating one another as God would have us do. The United States is not the country it was in 1860 or 1960. Great strides have been made in tearing down a lot of barriers that have trapped our fellow citizens in deplorable situations. What we need to do is get the show back on the road.

    Peggy Noonan once wrote: “Young black men will save our country. I’m not sure completely what I mean by this but–they’re tough and smart and know how to survive…” I thought it was trure then. It is true now.

    The protests and riots that are now underway remind me of the classic husband-wife conversation, where the wife is trying to tell her husband how terrible her day was while he is trying to offer solutions. Maybe this is not the time for white people to start telling black communities what needs to be done. We are going to be a lot better off by listening.

    Like Peggy Noonan, I believe the answer is out there in the black community. And the white community can build on the positive advances in race relations while trying to get the whole process back on track. We can then truly say as Jesus taught — All lives matter, and there is grace suffienct for all of us to live in his mercy.

    Now, we need to show that grace and mercy to every one of God’s creation.

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  4. I respect your opinions. I still think Black Lives Matter is the phrase to embrace in this point in history. Jesus said Blessed are the poor, not All are blessed. Sometimes getting specific is better to draw attention to the specifics at hand. What I see is that people say All Lives Matter are often just using it as a way to get around acknowledging the specific problems in the black community. I don’t know if all the answers are in the black community. I am thinking of the woman in Central Park. She was the problem, and she had the power to make the right decision. Her decision to use the race card was the problem. How could the black guy make the situation better? Like I said above, I respect your arguments even if I don’t agree.

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