I often scroll through my social media in the evening while the various members of my family are doing their thing. It’s just that time of year with Emma in Spring ballets and Jacob playing baseball.
Recently, a man I knew since my service in the U.S. Army, who now serves as a Florida police officer, posted on his Facebook wall, “If you believe there is such a thing as ‘white privilege,’ go ahead and unfriend me now. Not just on Facebook. In life.”
The comment stunned me. This particular guy is normally well-read, intelligent, and open to dialog. The first guy to speak up was another Army buddy, a white guy living in the Chicago area. He simply said, “You’re wrong, buddy.” The response was gut-wrenching for me to see. “Well, you know what to do.” Their ties were severed just like that.
Once I verified this was really happening, I took a moment to reflect on what happened and how to say what turned out to be my final words to him. My response to him highlighted my respect for him, shared understanding that he was probably upset with recent news of police brutality of white officers on minority suspects, and that in this one case I disagreed with his stance. He was wrong.
Two Things Became Abundantly Clear
Meanwhile, a third person joined the conversation, another white Army buddy who pointed out a specific example of white privilege. In the middle of this conversation and just before this former friend severed ties with the three of us, a couple of things came to mind for me.
1. The only people engaged in this conversation were white whether on one side or the other. The very conversation was privileged.
2. This man essentially drew a line in the sand and said, agree with me or we are not friends anymore.
While I do not believe this Florida police officer is racist, his comments and actions in that brief discussion inadvertently and fully supported it.
Olivia and my kids could see that losing this friend brought me down on Easter Sunday. Being biracial, I am Asian and white and neither at the same time. What I mean is that among Asians I am considered white, and among many whites I am considered Mexican until they learn that I am half Thai. When have I seen white privilege happen for me? When the demeanor of those around shifts from being condescending to inclusive the moment people learn that Dugan is an Irish name and not a Mexican one, that my tan is part of my being Asian and not Latino. It’s subtle, but it happens.
The Batman Perspective on White Privilege
Privilege is a difficult thing to discuss and pinpoint whether it is a racial privilege, gender-based privilege, or economically-based privilege. It’s kind of like the 1989 movie of Batman starring Michael Keaton. Batman shares with Vicki Vale (Kim Bassinger’s character) that he’s solved the mystery of how the Joker is killing people.
It’s not one thing alone, but a combination of seemingly harmless things combined that is killing people in Gotham. Privilege is much the same way. It’s not a single obvious act of racism, but a series of connected “harmless” behaviors within a culture. Many times those dots do not even seem connected like the recent Stevenson College reaction to Mexican food served at an Intergalatic-themed campus event. In fact, I had second friend severe ties with me over that issue as well in the same exact way.
This article “Seven Actual Facts that Prove White Privilege Exists in America” from mic.com (http://mic.com/articles/89653/7-actual-facts-that-prove-white-privilege-exists-in-america) does a great (and better) job of describing actual facts and examples that come together to explain white privilege itself.
We See the World Through a Cultural Filter
We each see the world with the lens we were raised to use. Oftentimes, that lens is based on our culture. Many of our judgements are based on our cultural lens. Some examples include the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform. It’s not the discussion itself that I’d like to point out, but a challenge to you. The next time you see a conversation pop up on social media about our government creating a nanny state, giving hand outs with someone’s hard earned tax dollars, etc., take a closer look at WHO is ranting about lazy people needing to get a job.
Consider what is not being asked. Questions like the following:
Why is it that the smallest demographics of our society make up such a large proportion of our nation’s poor?
Why is it we assume that it is just minorities who use (and abuse) the welfare system when studies show that whites use it most?
Why do minorities make up the bulk of our prison system, school suspensions and expulsions, etc.?
Why is it that women from Africa coming to the U.S. find themselves faced with a HIGHER mortality rate in the U.S.? (Texas Health and Human Services, 2013.)
Acknowledging White Privilege Does Not Mean “All White People Are Racist”
Benefiting from white privilege does not make you a racist. Benefiting from male privilege does not make you a bigot or mysogonist. It’s what we were born into. It’s what I was born into at least. The challenge is what I do with that privilege. I can bury my head in the sand, refuse to listen to the arguments and the data like my former friend did. Or, I can work through my own discomfort in the conversation or discussion, and take some time to reflect on what I have learned with who I really am. One good way to know that your privilege exists is that posts and discussions like this make you uncomfortable, upset, maybe even angry with me…but you don’t know exactly why. It takes strength, courage and humility to recognize that within ourselves and go through a discussion.
Did I lose friends to discussions on white privilege? Not really.
A real friend respects me enough to consider my own perspective and feelings. On difficult topics like privilege, racism, and any other type of oppression of another group, we can mistake strength as drawing the line in the sand and saying, “We’re not talking about this. Anyone who talks about this is stupid, and I won’t have any part of it.” That isn’t strength. That’s cowering in fear (calling it frustration) and hiding behind a facade.
For those of us to don’t readily see white privilege as a thing, there are really two options for us. Option 1, we can make a humble effort to understand it. Option 2, we can be dismissive of the topic altogether as we continue to view the issue with the dominant cultural filter I mentioned earlier. One option entails humility. The other option entails pride and stubbornness.
These men drew a line in the sand and without discussion fired off “Un-friend” bullets. They both chose Option #2 and called anyone who took Option #1 stupid as they drew their lines in the sand. If our perceptions of reality are in the context of our own beliefs, values and experiences, then we owe it to ourselves to move beyond ourselves and have real conversations about stuff like this.