Let’s compare the reaction of this incident with the reaction to Ferguson, Missouri. In August of 2014, black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer. Ferguson, being a predominantly African American community, reacted with an emotional protest to the unwarranted shooting of Michael Brown. During the protest, several fires were started.
Conservative America went full on racist, referring to the fire starters in Ferguson as “thugs.” When confronted, these conservatives stated that anyone could be a “thug,” and stated that referring to them as ‘thugs’ was not based on them being black, but that destructive actions of that nature warranted the “thug” label regardless of the color of the perpetrators.
So what are we hearing now that a predominantly white crowd decided to set fire to objects in their own community? Crickets. Where are the conservatives waiting on hold with their local right wing talk radio show to quickly label the perpetrators in Lexington as “thugs?” They aren’t. Because when white people set things on fire in their own community, they are just kids having fun, right?
The difference in reaction to the two situations can be summed up by two words. White Privilege.
White privilege is a topic that always seems to make people uncomfortable. On a daily basis, I witness countless situations that reveal not only how white privilege exists, but also how it is built into everyday life for a white person. Until we as a society become more comfortable discussing white privilege, we can never have a real conversation about race in America.
When the subject of white privilege is discussed, I realize that many white Americans do not understand the true meaning of the term. Feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh describes it best by saying “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” Since white people are born with these built in advantages, they never have to think about them. In essence, it is the absence of any race discrimination.
White Americans never have to worry about being pulled over by the police for the color of their skin. They never have to worry about being watched more closely while shopping in a store, and they never have to worry about what it feels like to be a minority. Being a white person in America has built in privileges, and it’s time that all Americans come to terms with this fact.
Now of course, the vast majority of conservatives (mostly white males) deny the fact that white privilege exists. Take Bill O’Reilly for example. During an episode of the O’Reilly factor in August of 2014, O’Reilly stated, “There is no question that African Americans have a much harder time succeeding in our society than whites do.” In hearing this statement, one would assume that O’Reilly had finally discovered the truth for a change. O’Reilly then goes on to state that he does not believe in white privilege. Yes, Bill O’Reilly stated that white privilege exists, only to follow that up by stating it does not. But that is Fox News in a nutshell, right?
When we delve into some of the basic statistics regarding arrests, we see that white privilege once again plays a huge part. Although African Americans only make up 13.2 percent of the United States population, they are arrested at ten times the rate of white citizens. This according to a study conducted by USA Today which focused on seventy police departments spanning from Connecticut to California.
Another prime example of white privilege can be seen in this video created by Jason Roberts, host of the YouTube channel “Simple Misfits.” As you can see, Roberts (a white man) attempts to pick the lock of his car with a coat hanger. Several pedestrians, and even a police officer pass Roberts, but no one gives him a second look. Next, Roberts has his friend (a black man) attempt to break into the same car. His friend quickly garners attention and within two minutes, a police officer approaches him with his gun drawn. Soon, Roberts’ friend is in handcuffs and surrounded by multiple police officers. This video is a perfect demonstration of white privilege.
My personal belief is that many white Americans deny white privilege because it is easily confused with white guilt. White Americans should not apologize for being white. We should, however, be willing to face the reality that is right in front of us. The first step in understanding how to repair race relations in America is to understand how those of other races feel. As long as white privilege continues to be denied by many white Americans, we will never be able to move on as a nation, and take real steps to remove the systematic racism that is built into America’s very fabric.
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