A thing I have been struggling with lately is a term that has been around for years now and that I thought I understood. It’s something I have written essays about during my studies and even blogged about in a roundabout way. Looking back at all that now, I’m not sure I ever really truly checked myself properly or if I understood the full scope of it. I’m talking about white privilege.
It’s been following me around all week.
I feel like such a fool to admit this but it hit me only recently that I’m not just someone on the outside looking in on a situation of inequality and racism in a distant country. I’m right there with everyone else and I can no longer say my hands are completely clean.
This does not mean I actively did wrong. I can even say that there is nothing I could or should have done differently. The only thing that was missing all this time was intent and true consciousness. So what changed? Well, a few things happened:
One of my co-workers is adopted. Despite the fact that she is Dutch to the core, she mentioned she ALWAYS get stared at. Everywhere she goes, she gets looks. Not negatively per se, just sort of subconscious stares from people, lost in their own thoughts about her different skin color and appearance. I was surprised by this and told her I couldn’t imagine why people would do that and was sorry she felt uncomfortable at times because of this. And then it hit me and I felt like an idiot…. because I am most likely one of those staring people too…
The other day I saw Law and Disorder in Philadelphia, an episode in the documentary series by Louis Theroux. One moment that especially moved me was the part where they apprehended a nineteen year old kid, running from the police. He was slammed to the floor by the police and mocked for saying he ran because he was afraid; and no, the fact that they yelled they were police didn’t make it less scary. They hardly gave him the opportunity to explain himself and had no sympathy whatsoever for his ordeal. He was black and walking down the street in a notorious neighborhood, therefore he was a drug dealer, a liar and a thug.
Watching white people assume only the worst about people of color makes me feel awful. Yes, I know about the statistics and how crime numbers seem to prove their higher tendency to choose the wrong path, but I can’t help but wonder about the chicken and the egg and all that… Philadelphia is a long way from home though, and it’s quite easy to turn a blind eye to the situation there or at least convince myself that it has nothing to do with me.
My eyes are open now… Especially since, last Thursday, when I read an article by Arjen van Veelen, announcing the release of the translated version of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the world. His book, written as a letter to his 14 year old son, is:
[…] a tribute to James Baldwin, who wrote The Fire Next Time about the same topic to his teenage nephew. At the same time it is a refinement in book form of “the talk”, being the conversation that black [parents] have with their children about how to behave while being stopped by the police. Coates expands the talk with the question: how do you live in a body that inspires fear in others but also experiences fear itself?
Despite our own police brutality incident in The Hague a while ago, people at the bottom of Dutch society are faced with a less imminent threat to their lives than in, say, Ferguson. Arjen van Veelen reminds us that this does not make Coates’ book any less relevant for us Dutchies to read, as we have so much more to lose.
Van Veelen describes how our prime minister became terribly upset over the riots in the Hague and showed his support for the small businessmen who’s shops had been looted. He displayed more grief for those broken windows and lost revenues than for the man who had died in police custody days earlier.
It’s precisely this deafness for the pain of the people at the bottom of the food chain that causes these festering wounds. According to Van Veelen there have been many explicit warnings from Cassandras in all shapes and sizes about the situation in The Hague, even specifically warning for a Ferguson-like situation with tired police officers with short fuses and dangerous biases.
The deafness is systemic. The people that, like Coates, were critical of the system and spoke of institutional racism have long been seen as too radical.
There is a certain eagerness to speak about racism as long as it is about the past or about America. […] Oh yes, sometimes another opinion is given a small space in the paper, but it is hardly generous – it’s the Dutch stinginess; one cookie and then close the cookie jar, you’ve had your turn. This mono-culture had physical consequences, like what we have seen the Hague. Broken windows are the opinion piece you get when the mayor and the newspaper are incapable of listening.
As an advice to Coates, who may be visiting our country in the following months, van Veelen says:
Less people die in the Netherlands, so there is no need to fear for your life. Here, only your mind is smothered.
Come on over, mr Coates and give us some spiritual CPR!
This blog actually started out as part of my previous blog, but it kind of got out of hand so I decided to split it in two and give my white privilege a blog of its own. I do realize it is quite a heavy topic and scrolling through my blogs of late, I see it is becoming harder to digest as a whole.
I hereby promise the next 5 blogs I write will be shorter, easier to read and lighter on the morality scale. 🙂
9 thoughts on “Smother my spirit in privilege”
Some words have to be spilled out and no matter how hard we try, sometimes they are long. But believe you me, anyone who appreciates the content and context wouldn’t worry about the longevity. After all if we can read M&B for hours non stop, isn’t a topic on humanity more precious than that. Great post…subconsciously we do these things, like you being one of those who stare too, not on purpose though. But understand that being aware makes one to be at alert. Awareness and understanding is paramount. We may not believe it but a good heart is important and is seen in a variety of ways. Both parties need understanding. Cheerios.
Thanks alot, Mary! I agree it is all about having a good heart and I do what I can to stay on the side of the good guys. 🙂
I know many people with foreign looks would rather just blend in and be treated with zero distinction. I must say though, there are times when I look at exotic beauties and want to grab their hand and tell them how beautiful their eyes are, just so they know the intent of my occasional glances. Doesn’t exactly make them feel normal, but it would make them feel admired and respected instead of singled out and rejected…?
It’s worth an experiment, don’t you think? Or do you think it would backfire?
Nope I doubt it will backfire. That will be pretty awesome. It’s a good experiment….carry on test trials and let’s see how it goes…patiently waiting.
I’ve read and listened to several interviews in which for-profit author Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks or writes about his experiences, thoughts and concerns.
After listening to this interview I realized an intelligent, educated TaNehisi is willfully ignoring the reality of life for a substantial number of my American neighbors.
Apparently TaNehisi is not willing to recognize America’s expanding and shameful *National Epidemic of Childhood Abuse and Neglect*, *Poverty*, that for more than two generations has deprived untold numbers of American kids from experiencing and enjoying a fairly happy American kid childhood with *Safe Streets* to travel and play on,
*Child Abuse and Neglect* that is primarily responsible for populating our prisons with depressed, angry, frustrated, undisciplined, unpredictable, sometimes suicidal teens and adults full of resentment for irresponsibly being introduced to a life of hardships and struggles.
*Early Childhood Abuse and Neglect* that often leads depressed, sometimes suicidal *(NY Times May 18, 2015 – Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers)* children to develop into depressed, angry, frustrated, unpredictable, sometimes suicidal teens and adults lacking empathy and compassion for others, though needing to vent their pent up negative emotions, often causing emotional and physical harm to peaceful people…instead of venting their anger, resentment and pain on the immature single moms and/or dads who introduced them to a life of pain and struggle by irresponsibly building a family before acquiring the practical skills, *PATIENCE* and means to successfully raise and nurture a developing young child who matures into a fairly happy responsible teen and adult with mostly fond memories of their childhood.
Epi, early in my police career when I was assigned to the Brooklyn community Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter raps/writes about attempting destroy by selling poison to depressed people living and working in his community, and rapping about engaging in extremely harmful anti-social behaviors designed to protect his drug operation from rival gangs in adjoining neighborhoods, a few of my training officers advised me to be prepared to experience “culture shock.”
When I asked what is meant by “culture shock,” I was told, “You’ll find out.”
I did find out what “culture shock” is, though it was not a culture of violence and harmful anti-social activities many were insinuating I would be shocked by.
The aspect of this Brooklyn, NY community that shocked me to the core was witnessing children being emotionally scarred by an *American Sub-Culture of Child Abuse/Neglect*,” aka *Poverty* that Kendrick Lamar raps and speaks about some twenty-five years after I first witnessed the *”American Sub-Culture of Child Abuse/Neglect”* that today CONTINUES emotionally damaging many developing children and their communities.
I personally witnessed the emotional trauma and physical pain a young, neglected, unsupervised, *Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter* is responsible for causing, and its aftermath, leaving a community populated by mostly peaceful people fearing for their safety on a 24/7 basis, which are the hours Shawn’s crew/gang were selling community harming substances.
During the twelve years I served this community I met hundreds of peaceful people who were just as shaken, upset and deeply disturbed as I was by the daily displays of violence and other anti-social activities mostly caused by teens and adults who were victims of childhood abuse and neglect.
I was lucky, at the end of my workday I could leave the community, returning to a more peaceful residential community where concerns for me and my family’s safety were significantly lower.
However, virtually all of my civilian co-workers, mostly loving, competent moms living in this community were not as fortunate. They were burdened with stresses and challenges my parents did not face to any significant degree.
The added stresses and challenges my peaceful co-workers faced was preventing their children from being negatively influenced by abused, neglected, unsupervised children being raised and nurtured by immature, “living wild” teen moms and young women who irresponsibly begin building families before they acquired the skills, maturity, *PATIENCE* and means to independently provide for their family of developing children.
In his 2015 Grammy award winning Rap Performance titled “I”, Kendrick Lamar writes, *”I’ve been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent.”*
During a January 20, 2011 LAWeekly interview (Google search) Kendrick, born in 1987, the same year songwriter Suzanne Vega wrote a song about child abuse and *VICTIM DENIAL* that was nominated for a Grammy award, told the interviewer:
*”Lamar’s parents moved from Chicago to Compton in 1984 with all of $500 in their pockets. “My mom’s one of 13 [THIRTEEN] siblings, and they all got SIX kids, and till I was 13 everybody was in Compton,” he says.”*
*”I’m 6 years old, seein’ my uncles playing with shotguns, sellin’ dope in front of the apartment. My moms and pops never said nothing, ’cause they were young and living wild, too. I got about 15 stories like ‘Average Joe.'”*
It seems evident to me Kendrick identified the source of his depression, the roots of poverty, the child abuse/maltreatment that prevented him, his brothers, sisters, cousins, neighborhood friends, elementary and JHS classmates from enjoying a fairly happy safe childhood.
Seems the adults responsible for raising the children in Kendrick’s immediate and extended family placed obstacles in their children’s way, causing their kids to deal with challenges and stresses young minds are not prepared to deal with…*nor should they or any other children be exposed to and have to deal with.*
It seems evident to me these *PARENTAL INTRODUCED* obstacles and challenges cause some developing children’s minds to become tormented and go haywire, not knowing *OR NOT CARING ABOUT* right from wrong…because as they mature, young victims of child abuse realize their parents introduced them to a life of pain and struggle, totally unlike the mostly safe, happy life the media showed them many American kids were enjoying. *RESENTMENT*
I wonder how little Kendrick and his classmates reacted when their elementary school teacher introduced the DARE presenter and they learned about the real dangers of drugs and how they harm people, including their parents? *Cognitive Dissonance*
I cannot speak for anyone else, but if I was raised in Kendrick’s family I would most likely be silently peeved at my parents. particularly my mom who had the final say on whether or not I was born, for being immature, irresponsible “living wild” adults who deprived me, my sisters and brothers of experiencing a safe, fairly happy Average Joe or Josie American childhood.
I have a feeling most Americans would have been just as shaken and disturbed as I was when witnessing on a daily basis children and teens being abused, neglected and unsupervised, which often resulted with them venting their anger and frustrations on their peaceful neighbors.
This video depicts horrific examples of men who were victims of childhood abuse and neglect, conditioning a young teen to embrace ‘The Street’ culture Baltimore Mom of The Year failed to protect her teen son from…not to mention representing the fear peaceful people living and WORKING in the community experience knowing depressed, angry, unpredictable teens and young adults need to vent their angers and frustrations for being introduced to a life of pain and struggle by irresponsible, “living wild” single moms and/or dads.
This video depicts acts of criminal child abuse, maltreatment and violence against…”A little girl, catching a cool breeze from an air conditioning unit in the yard, was blindsided by another child about her same age, who had evidently had some practice with fighting fierce. The small victim wasn’t alone, as there were plenty of nearby witnesses, who could have protected her but didn’t because they were too busy recording the brutal beat down and encouraging it.” | Written By Amanda Shea
NY Times May 18, 2015 – *Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers*
Quoting the NYT article, *”The suicide rate among black children has nearly doubled since the early 1990s, surpassing the rate for white children, a new study has found.”*
Who is responsible for traumatizing, abusing, neglecting, maltreating children to the point where depressed young kids, we’re talking elementary school age children, believe their lives are not worth living?
With all due respect to my American neighbors of African descent, the oppression of humans that led to racism and slavery has largely been replaced with a new form of human oppression that impedes and deprives many American children from experiencing a safe, fairly happy American kid childhood.
The question all concerned, compassionate Americans should seriously be asking ourselves, our elected, civil, social, community and religious leaders is, what real, substantial changes in our society’s attitude and laws need to occur to prevent abuse that often causes young kids to mature into depressed, frustrated, angry teens and adults as a result of experiencing the *emotional and/or physical trauma of an abusive childhood?*
Epi, unlike Ta-Nehisi who is focused on selling books and elevating his notoriety, I have no financial or other reasons to be nonobjective about the social issues facing many Americans of African descent.
Black *(Children’s)* Lives Matter; Take Pride In Parenting; *End Our National Epidemic of Child Abuse and Neglect*; End Community Violence, Police Fear & Educator’s Frustrations
I’d like to change to last paragraph of my writing to read:
“Unlike Ta-Nehisi who is focused on selling books and elevating his stature as an author, I have no financial or other reasons to be nonobjective about the social issues facing many Americans of African descent.”
Notoriety was not the appropriate word.
Wow, this is quite a comment, which I’m not sure yet how to react to. I do appreciate your elaborate info and will chew on it a bit more before sending you my full response.