Why Should Skin Color Make a Difference? The Uncomfortable Burden of White Privilege

fleshHaving both lived in the South all of my life and being into punk rock for over a decade now, I’ve had the sad misfortune of running into people who are racists. From the pine scrub woods of Florida, to the Appalachian mountains, the lowlands of Georgia and now to the bayous of Louisiana, I’ve met them all along the way.

These haven’t always been your “white power” boneheads with a creepy Hitler fetish. In fact, I can think of a half-black chef that I used to work with who repeatedly talked about how much he hated white people as well as others who just did not like me simply because I didn’t look like them.

Racism, no matter who practices it, is wrong and it is stupid. Yet there are people who continue to rationalize it or apologize for it even in this day and age. The ones that anger me the most are those who attempt to create a false equivalency between some instances of discrimination against “white” people versus the centuries of exploitation under colonialism and all of its horrors practiced by white Europeans against everyone else in the world.

For a long time, the small island of Britain controlled a significant portion of the world. As their influence began to wane, another set of superpowers slowly rose to fill the vacuum, one of which was our United States of America. For almost 90 years after our independence was declared from Britain, we allowed slavery to remain legal. It took almost another 100 years after that for the descendants of those slaves to gain equal rights under the law throughout our country and be able to eat at the same lunch counters as the descendants of those who once owned their ancestors.

Despite what you’ll hear from apologists for white racism, pointing out the injustices of other societies throughout history doesn’t make the racism that still exists today any less wrong. The actions of the Japanese against the Chinese during World War II or the Rwandan genocide and others like these do not excuse what white Europeans and their descendants have done from the Crusades on to this very day.

It is not excusable to point to what someone else has done and use that as a reason to look the other way while injustices continue to happen in this day and age. It is not acceptable, nor can we allow politicians and pundits to claim that the concerted voter suppression that is going on right now is comparable to a few scary-looking black men standing outside a single urban voting precinct in Philadelphia in one election.

And then there are the people who want to claim that there’s no difference between “black pride” and people who claim they’re “proud to be white.” If there wasn’t a long history of violence, lynchings, bombings and centuries of oppression by people of European descent, then I could see their point, but this is a completely disingenuous equivalency that is being attempted in that case. No other “race” in the history of the human race has a worse track record of mistreating others than white Europeans. In addition to that, “white pride” is different than “black pride.” For the descendants of slaves, we erased their family trees. Other than the color of their skin and perhaps a few generations of family history, that’s all they have.

I can trace my ancestors back over many centuries — that’s one of the privileges that comes from a family tree which has been mostly uninterrupted by war, genocide (except for some of my Jewish family members in WWII) or forced slavery. That’s something to be thankful for, but not proud of.

It’s not something to be proud of when you’re less likely to be pulled over by the cops just because of the color of your skin, and more likely to receive a shorter prison sentence for similar crimes. It’s not something to be proud of when you’re 4 times less likely to be arrested for marijuana possession just because you have a lower melanin count than somebody else. It’s not something to be proud of, and it’s certainly not something I’m comfortable with. Especially in the year 2013. 

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