A few days ago, I got tired of the asinine postings about Colin Kaepernick. I mean, I can’t believe so many people care about this nonsense. So, on my personal Facebook page, I did the unthinkable; I posted about 4 paragraphs on it. The entire issue is asinine. Yes, Kaepernick has a right to sit down during the national anthem. Yes, I suppose you have the right to be butthurt about it, but I have the right to call you stupid for it. His right to protest whatever he wants is embedded in the Bill of Rights. No, he should not be sanctioned by anyone for exercising his right to free speech. No, he did not lose his right to free speech when he signed a large multi-million-dollar contract; in fact, a case could be made that it made him more responsible to speak out. And no, he did not insult the military. First of all, the military should be honored for their service, not worshipped; note the difference. If you take personal offense because you served and he’s sitting down for the national anthem, the problem is yours, dear serviceman or service family member. The reason they fight is to preserve everyone’s liberties, not to make yourself feel more important. Your ego has no place in this discussion.
I will note that all of the veterans and military people who have complained to me so far are white. So, of course, I bought the discussion around to white privilege and when I did so, a large number of white people lost their shit. A few even told me (some privately because they were apparently rightfully embarrassed) that I can’t say there is white privilege because I don’t know what some people go through. I kid you not.
That’s the reason for this column.
Too many white people think white privilege is an opinion and they believe it’s within their power to deny its existence and, if they do, it will suddenly cease to exist. White privilege in the United States is fact. Denying its existence is tantamount to denying that the earth is round or that we’re breathing air. It’s like looking at the temperature statistics and denying climate change. No matter how much you deny its existence, it remains a fact. It’s just a fact that white people have a built-in advantage in this society. This is not a debatable point, and the fact that a few Black people, like President Obama, Colin Kaepernick and Dwayne Johnson (who is now the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, which has also freaked out a significant number of white people) have made it in this society doesn’t change the reality.
White people have run this country since a series of European monarchies started building boats and crossing the Atlantic. The Revolution was a group of white people overthrowing other white people. When the country was founded and a Constitution written, only white men with land were allowed to vote. Only white men could own land or run a business in the town square. Only white men could be doctors or lawyers or attend college and become a professional. In fact, Black people were barely mentioned in the Constitution, and only because slaveholders in the South were worried about being under-represented in Congress, so they came up with a compromise in which Blacks were counted as three-fifths of a person. That was only for counting purposes; make no mistake; slavery meant about 90% of the Black people in this country were considered property and as less than human. They had roughly the same stature as the family dog or cat and slightly less than the family’s horse. By the time the United States was founded, slavery was a 150-year-old tradition and it took about another century to abolish it in the law and another century to make Black people technically legal under the law. Note that I said “technically.” Society is usually behind the law and, to this day, white people still too often think of Black people as “lesser.”
Since white people came here and slaughtered most of the native people and took their land and established a society in which everyone who comes here was/is all but legally forced to live by white standards, why would any thinking human being believe that this is not essentially a “white country”? How could anyone think white people don’t have a built-in advantage?
Think about it. Everyone who comes here has to learn to speak English, although some speak Spanish, which is another European language. The economy was built by white people for other white people and we require anyone who comes here to assimilate into the white culture. Therefore, if you are born white here, guess what? You’re already assimilated. Easy, right? White people have a built-in advantage; this isn’t rocket science. That is white privilege. White people have always owned pretty much the entire economy and white men still control most of it. Since human beings tend to be more comfortable with their “own kind,” again, white people have a built-in advantage.
Come on, folks, this isn’t hard. We built a society of, by and for white people and until 1964, which was almost 200 years into the experiment, we created a society in which white people lived on one side of an imaginary line and gave themselves the best things, while Black people were forced to live separately. Why would anyone think the imposition of a society in which two separate cultures was forced on people would suddenly just disappear in one generation? That’s ridiculous. Too many white people act as if, because we let them into our clubhouse in 1964, they should be thankful and bow down to us with gratitude.
I keep saying it, but it’s because it is important; white privilege is a fact. And you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge as real, my fellow white people. Imagine a football game between the white team and the black team and for the first three quarters, the black team was tied to a ball and chain and fall behind by 500 points. If, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, you remove the ball and chain, is that actually fair? Basically, Black people were behind 500-0 by 1964, but many white people think we’re all even and there is no more to do. Is that how you think fairness works?
This is white privilege. White people live in a white bubble in which they just live their lives and they don’t see what actually goes on, which means they are incapable of understanding this. Hell, I’ll admit it; I’m a white man. And when I say white, I mean white. I’m of Irish, German and Polish descent and my skin, even after a year plus back in the desert, is a light beige. I will never be able to walk in the shoes of a Black man and know exactly what it’s like. But I can open my eyes and see. All white people should be able to see. Here are some things to consider:
- As a white man, I can (and have) walk the length of Manhattan and not be accosted by police just because I am white. A Black man does not enjoy the same privilege, based on judicial assessments of the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” program.
- As a white man, I know that, if I apply for a job, I won’t have to perform at 150% just to be considered.
- White people have never been denied admission to a university because they were white. Yes, that includes under affirmative action. On the other hand, there are thousands of legacy admissions every year. If your Uncle Bill went to Harvard, or even a state university, you have a leg up on the Black man, whose parents or grandparents were denied admission until about 50 years ago.
- Have you ever wondered, as you live in your “white neighborhood,” why, when someone moves, it’s almost always a white family that moves in? It’s called redlining and it still goes on.
- No one ever bought a building and worked to keep white people out of them. Okay, maybe it’s happened once or twice, but it’s not systemic.
- White people have ever been refused service in a restaurant for being white, at least as a matter of course. White people aren’t charged higher rates in hotels for being white and white renters have never been charged a higher deposit for being white.
Like I said, white privilege is real. It’s fact. You were born assimilated into a white society and you, as a white person, have never had to jump through hoops just for being white. People of color are at a natural disadvantage in every area of society. Most executives in companies are white, their managers are usually white and the people who do the hiring are usually white. White people have a built-in advantage, unless you DO something wrong. If you’re white, you won’t be denied an apartment or a home unless you commit a crime or screw up your credit. Also, many people got their great job from someone they know, whether it’s from a referral or a recommendation from a friend or relative who works there. Given that white people own everything and Black people were locked out of the job market for generations, how is that not an advantage for white people?
When you are buying a home, white people don’t have a real estate agent trying to “guide them” into a neighborhood “where they will be comfortable.” White people don’t have to explain if they want to live in a “black neighborhood;” at most, they might get a side-eye and an “okay, if that’s what you want…” but they won’t be actively discouraged. If you think red-lining is a past practice, think again.
Then, there are the police and law enforcement in general, which is kind of what Colin Kaepernick was alluding to when he explained his decision to sit. If you’re white, you can dress like a homeless person and police will only bother you if you’re bothering others. However, if you’re a person of color, yes, even if you’re wearing a suit (hell; especially if you’re wearing a suit!), you are looked on with suspicion, even if you’re just walking down the street. If three or more people of color are walking down the street; that’s a “gang,” even if they’re in their 40s. If you’re white and shopping, you have to be a teenager in a group of three or more with one or more wearing a backwards baseball cap before security will even look at you. But if you’re darker than beige? When you walk into a mall or a store, be assured that all cameras and security people are focused on you. Take racial profiling. Not only is it shitty policing, it is also absolutely racist. Have you ever noticed that racial profiling is never directed at white people? That’s because there is a built-in advantage to being in the segment of society considered “normal.” No police department in the country has ever targeted white people as drug dealers just because they were white; they have to dress a certain way and someone has to point to them as “drug dealers.” And yet, for years, until the courts told them to stop, under racial profiling protocols, police targeted black and brown people driving late-model expensive cars because they had to be “drug dealers.” Black people get stopped by police far more than white people. They get arrested for drugs far more than white people, even though they don’t actually do or sell more drugs than white people. They far more likely to be incarcerated than a white person for the same crime. And the most galling, disgusting statistic is that young Black men are 23 times more likely to be killed by police than young Caucasians.
Think about perceptions for a second. When white people are driving through a “black neighborhood,” even one with low crime, they will instinctively lock their car doors. They don’t do that driving through Beverly Hills. And I’ll be honest; I get it. We have been told all of our lives that Black people are more dangerous and they look different and it feels weird to be the only white person in a sea of Black people. Get out of the bubble, white people. Black people work their asses off, they buy or rent just like you. They raise their kids just like you and they want their kids to have it better than they had it. Okay, so they tend to go to church and pray more than white people. No one is perfect.
And that’s the heart of the problem, isn’t it? White people, don’t deny that you have preconceptions about Black people, albeit that it’s usually based on what you have been told by other white people. White people’s perceptions of Black people are often reminiscent of Scout Finch’s perception of Boo Ridley before she actually met him. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is maintaining that your perception is absolutely correct and will never change.
About 15 years ago, my car was towed to a garage in the center of Baltimore, on Pennsylvania Avenue. That section is bustling with black-owned businesses and on Saturdays, which is when I had to be there, the sidewalks and the streets are teeming with Black people milling about and shopping. It’s actually a great place to shop; the shop owners are friendly and they have some really great deals. They are a little shocked when they see a white guy in there, but they welcome the business. Anyway, I was asked by several white people I knew if I needed them to go with me “in that area.” You know, because Black people. I mean, it was a half block from the subway stop, there was a police station right there and someone I worked with lived about a block away, in any case. No one seemed to understand why I wasn’t afraid, but that’s because they live in their little sheltered white environment. I learned early on, when I was 19 years old and selling books door-to-door in Compton one summer (yes, that Compton), that Black people are absolutely no different from us, in their hearts. I found there to be great black people and dick-ish Black people, just like anyone. There were angry folks and beautiful Black people who asked me into their home and treated me like company. A few of them were concerned for me and wanted to make sure I would be out of the neighborhood by dark, but then, I would wish the same for a Black kid who was selling shit in Beverly Hills. but I also learned that they are just trying to make it in the white world of the USA. And that is why white people understanding what white privilege is and acknowledging it is so incredibly important.
If you are white in the United States of America, you are born with privilege based on that status. We built a society that favors white people in part because white people built it. The country is finally becoming the “melting pot” we were all told about when we were little, but too many white people seem resistant. That has to stop. I don’t understand how white people can’t see this.
White privilege is fact. Period.