We pulled into a roadside rest area on our way down to visit my husband’s family. I quickly jumped out of the car, and busied myself with getting rid of any of the garbage we’d already accumulated in the short time we’d been in the car. I exhaled sharply, as the traffic rushed passed us. Prior to stopping, my husband and I had been engaged in a rather intense discussion turned debate about Michael Brown. This sudden decision to pull into this rest stop was a blessing in disguise. If we hadn’t stopped, I’m pretty sure we might have reached full blown argument in about five minutes.
I was angry. Not necessarily at him, though in that moment, I was incredibly frustrated with his stubbornness. I was angry about the things I was reading on Twitter, the articles spanning the internet, the ignorant comments that people were leaving on Facebook statuses of friends, and even on mine. Beyond that, I felt helpless and incredibly awkward. Because, I was so mad about how the events were unraveling, but, and this is a big but, I’m white. Yes, I empathize, and I want to help get the message out, but I’m white. So very white. No matter how much I try, no matter how much I listen, I’ll never, ever fully understand just the full ramifications and impact of an event like Michael Brown. After I hit retweet, I can go back to my life. The same life where I’ll never have to teach my son how to walk down a street so he doesn’t get accosted. I don’t have to worry, and neither do my kids, about being profiled, or being hated for the color of our skin. All I have to do is make sure I raise children that don’t go on to become the ugly side of the internet. Yes, that is a big job, especially in the current climate, but it’s not the same. Not at all.
My privilege was stabbing me in a million different places.
Earlier that day, I’d brought the topic up to my husband in the comfort of our living room as we continued to pack for the trip. He’d said very little at first, a common occurrence when I rant about current events, but I could see the wheels turning in his head. I could see him plotting a defense, and that alone caused me to speak with more conviction, more fervor. I almost didn’t want to stop talking, because I knew that he was going to say something that was going to set me off.
“What’s the point of protesting?” was one of the first things that he uttered.
I explained, trying to keep cool. Trying to remind him that anyone can protest, even a hideous group like Westboro can do so. It’s not about the topic, it’s the very fact that being able to protest is a right. He went on to say that it was premature, all of the protesting, and that the justice system needed to be able to do it’s job.
“You mean the same justice system that allowed the man who molested our daughter to get off without even a slap on his wrist? The same one that blamed me for writing about the vague details of the case? The same one that believed a pathological liar, and decided the fact that he had actually confessed to me meant nothing?” I challenged, my blood beginning to boil.
His silence was stony. I didn’t have to illustrate further on that subject, because I knew he was just as angry about that as I was and still am.
He didn’t respond to my questions, “It doesn’t matter. We’d never have something like this happen in Canada.”
I gasped, laughing uncomfortably. “You aren’t serious?”
“There would be an investigation into this. It might take years, but in the mean time, what’s the point of protesting something that eventually will get figured out?”
“That’s not the point, at all,” I snapped. “Don’t you remember G20 in Toronto? That it took the public becoming outraged in order for them to actually launch an investigation? What about the thousands of aboriginal women that are missing, presumed dead, and no one is actually looking for them, or caring that they are gone? What about-”
He cut me off, “But if a cop shot a person in cold blood, there would be an investigation.”
“You’d think. You don’t believe that corruption exists? That there may be cases where proper justice isn’t served? You don’t think that things get covered up and ignored? Especially when there is no interest from the media or general public?”
“I think you watch too much Scandal.”
I walked away, in tears, determined to distract myself with the rest of the To-Do List I had.
I knew that he couldn’t hear his own privilege oozing out of every pore on his body. I also didn’t blame him for it, either. He had an incredible life and childhood, growing up in a tiny town. One, that is, of course, predominantly white. My high school career was lined with racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and so much more. That’s not even including the abuse I was subjected to at home. We absolutely, the two of us, come from two different walks of life.
As we climbed back in the car later that day, my thoughts were swirling like a whirlpool.
“Can I just say something?”
“Sure,” he nodded, his eyes fixated on the road.
“I don’t want you think think I’m pushing you on this to be an asshole. I’m pushing you on this because I think you are smarter than the things you are saying. I know that it took me a long time to understand the concept of privilege, and it only happened when I had someone challenging my opinions. You’ve done the same for me many times, and I’m so grateful you have.”
“You just have a far more jaded outlook than I do,”
“You are right. I do! Look at my life; I definitely don’t look at things on the bright side. But, this isn’t the first time this has happened.”
I shook my head vigorously. “No, it’s not. I don’t know the number off the top of my head, but this week alone there have been multiple incidents involving cops and people of color. Not just men, either.”
“Hmm. Why is it happening?”
“Uncomplicated answer? Racism.”
The silence hung between us for a couple of minutes before I spoke again.
“Just be open to hearing the other side. Privilege isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be when you refuse to acknowledge it, and use it to condemn others who don’t have the same experience as you.” I paused. “Blind faith is a bad thing, no matter what you attach it to.”
* * * * * * * * * *.
Since the events of Ferguson have unfolded, I’ve seen varying degrees of the privilege that my amazing and completely kindhearted husband demonstrated, from many other people. Sometimes it’s blatant, and the person knows that they have it, but don’t care. Sometimes it’s formed in words that scream racism. Sometimes, it’s underhanded and difficult to see.
That’s the thing about having privilege and not understanding how it can warp your perception of the world, or how you can use it to interpret how the world “should” be. It can make you say hurtful things. It can stop you from looking beyond your own perfect white picket fence. It can absolutely make you think that others around you are bitter because they see or live the ugly side of society. It can make you blame victims, and believe that you are justified in doing so.
We all have privilege. Yes, even you.
Challenge yourself to think beyond your own circumstances, to listen to those who have experienced a life you’ll never have. Spread that message, and those stories. Challenge those that are using their privilege as a shield, because one day, they might actually get it.
Just last night, my husband said, ” I was watching the news today at work. Those cops are out of control. What are they even thinking?”
Privilege. Yep, we all have some version of it, but we don’t have to let it guide our opinions, actions or perceptions.