A Hint of Privilege

Photo by Jeremy Lishner on Unsplash

Dear Us,

I am angry today. It has nothing to do with injustice. At least, it doesn’t have anything to do with any sort of public injustice. It’s a private matter. The fact is, I can’t share it and that’s part of what makes me so angry. There are a couple of things going on and on top of them, I’m heart broken because of the sum total of the injustice in my country and the lack of the desire of empathy from so many.

And understand, I’ve been there.

I’ve learned to parrot the best hits of Ben Shapiro, Rush Limbaugh, et al. I can explain away systemic racism with the best of them.

I am pretty sure I still believe the principle from Shapiro that the most potent privilege in America is still “parents are married” and “graduated from High School” privilege, seeing as how all adults regardless of race in America who meet those two criteria are, by and large, unincarcerated and owe the least amount of money to creditors (minus home mortgages, which they have in greater quantity).

But in my angry cloud of restrained rage, I left for the grocery store. I am the family’s sole shopper and it stresses me out. I hate the way people shop and the way they block the aisles. No kidding, I swear that God lets me know how incomplete a package I am when I almost lose my cool behind someone’s grandma who parks her cart ACROSS the shopping aisle thus blocking the aisle and then taking her sweet marmalade time choosing between Jiffy and Skippy.

Did I mention I am angry.

Thing is…

I know what I look like angry.

And most of the time, I don’t care. I just walk around in my little storm cloud and eventually get over it.

But today, I looked in the mirror and thought that I needed to cool it before I caused an incident with my face.

I’m 39 and today was the first time in my life I thought that my face might cause a problem with people ignorant of my situation and that my experience of a perfectly legitimate emotion might cause me to be inappropriately considered by someone who looked at me.

And it was then that I finally felt my privilege.

I have never felt restrained from experiencing my emotions. As a man, it is my duty to control myself and not be ruled by my emotions, but today was the first time that I feared an illegitimate reaction from a stranger just because I’m going through something. In my normal life, if I look like I’m ready to bite someone, I never have to fear that someone is going to call the cops or a person in charge of guarding other people will single me out as a particular threat.

As a tall man with an intense look I have been given undue attention when it comes to safety issues, but I pass scrutiny quickly.

I desire, when I see a person of color in public for them to know that I’m a safe place, but fail to know how to visually convey the difference between “I’m aware of where you are to help provide a safe place for you” and “I’m aware of where you are to help provide a safe place from you.”

So I just sort of awkwardly work on not staring. Which I know doesn’t help anything.

Point is, I have begun to understand a shade of a corner of the world of what people have spoken to me about for years. I don’t think I agree with the entire cart of goods from which “white privilege” theory come from, but I also don’t discount it.

Most importantly is the application and therefore of it all. What do we do when we know something so that knowledge can become wisdom and my world becomes better and I raise my children with a more informed heart.

Perhaps it is that the old saying of “I don’t see color. I just see people,” needs to pass from the lexicon of people who truly desire to love all people. My friend Natasha recently polled her children about the idea of not seeing color and they were dumbstruck. Children are awesome in how bluntly they respond to bad ideas. They were blunt and brilliant.

To ignore someone’s color is to ignore their experience of this country. There’s good in there too, family, so I’m not just talking about the difficult experience of being brown in large swaths of American real estate. I’m talking about the first time my oldest found himself at a gathering in which I was the minority and everyone looked like him. He stared about in awe. “Look, daddy. Everyone has my skin.” He saw powerful men and women at a step show. Powerful in that the emotions you can’t wear on your face in public as a black man poured out of them, like thunderous wrath into the floorboards of that stage. Centuries of inequality boomed across the room and the cry of a people yearning for equal footing with the people they desire to love with their hearts and their skin and their sweat and their history hung in the air like a desperate prayer.

And my son walked away from that experience more powerful because he DID see color.

And it was beautiful.

Stronger together, that’s what we need. But that’s worth restoring dignity, justice, and the permission to be completely human to people who are still denied those basic rights in parts of our country.

Short term, our town needs to reassure its people that there is equity in enforcement of our local laws. I know there are laws to that end in the books, but there needs to be reassurance that it will be done right. There is too much in recent history to suggest that stuff is swept under the rug. So we need to reengage that conversation with the people who wield power in our name.

Long term… I don’t know. That’s to the visionaries and the dreamers, who I wish would step up and present that vision. Present that dream. I’ll back it to my dying breath.


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