“[T]he Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
If your skin is white, you have white privilege.
And it’s high time we all acknowledge it.
If this post makes you feel ashamed, well it should.
Sure, I was aware of the differences between myself and my friends of color, starting at a young age and taught by our history lessons and reinforced in recent years by the ache in my soul when I realized no more than a handful of black students attended the schools my children attended in my #whiteprivileged suburb.
I realized it when I near stopped the car and smacked a child who was not my own in the lacrosse carpool, because he said, “Black people don’t belong in our town.”
I realized it when we took our kids out of that school system (for multiple reasons) and chose to drive them 45 minutes one way to an inner city school, 1) because it is stellar and was the best place for them, and 2) because I felt like I owed it to my sons to know what it’s like to study and play and grow up alongside other kids of color. Kids just like them.
But even then, well-intentioned as I was, I did not realize the depth of my #whiteprivilege.
You can love black people and co-workers and friends.
You can swear you are not prejudiced.
But until you realize the depth and insidious-ness of your own #whiteprivilege—until we all do—we will never, ever change.
The way the veil Du Bois speaks of began to lift for me—and I have an infinite way to go yet—was when I was trying to write a novel with a black protagonist. Acknowledging my utter inability to write from that viewpoint, I turned to a good friend for insight.
“What’s it like to be black? I mean, really like?” I started.
Then I hesitated.
“Is it even okay to refer to you as black? Should I say ‘African-American?’ ‘Person of color?’”
I felt heat spreading across my neck.
I know NOTHING.
She was kind and forgiving as she began to explain
what it’s like to be black.
It’s being taught before you can talk that you will be suspected and disrespected, that people will pull their purses closer in stores, and lock their car doors when you walk by. And that’s just for starters.
It’s breathing a sigh of relief when you have daughters, because…
…because of George Floyd.
Did you watch the video of his murder?
Watch it, damn it.
Watch it ALL.
Because what happened to him is what every black person in America envisions and fears and dreams about happening to them every single day.
When, white friends, was the last time you worried about *something like that* happening to you? Your SON? Your BROTHER? Your FATHER?
When, white friends?
The answer is NEVER. Not if you’re honest with yourself.
And therein lies white privilege.
Until we white people get it, until we befriend (not out of curiosity, but really befriend) and then have those difficult conversations with our black friends about what it’s really like, until we live and work and play and worship and shop and walk alongside and take the chance that we’re calling them by the improper term and stumble over our awkward whiteness to reach out toward each other in love and cultural humility we will never change.
I’m not going to offer scripture verses or write a nice prayer, because I’m as angry as Jesus and the money changers, and I don’t recall that he paused to recite from the Torah in that moment.
What I will offer are a couple of recommendations, the only ones that feel even slightly appropriate at the moment.
Here are links to two incredible books that helped me realize more about the plight of my black friends: The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois, and The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Below is a list of white privileges that has been floating around the internet—I could not find the original source, but it is spot on. And it is a start.
Look up their names and their stories.
Let it work on your heart.
And may the Lord have mercy on us all.
I have privilege as a white person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
I can go to church (#Charleston9)
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
I can run (#WalterScott)
I can breathe (#EricGarner)
I can live (#FreddieGray)
I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd)
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.