I grew up privileged. There, I said it. Even though I have a mixed background from both my mom and dad’s side of the family, I grew up with a fair complexion. I passed as white my entire life. It has not been until recently that I have realized how deep that privilege is engrained into my identity. What I mean is that the color of my skin has never been the cause for the cops to pull me over. The color of my eyes and type of hair I have never caused a store owner to watch me suspiciously while I shop. I have never been told to go back to where I came from and I have never been told that I am less American than others. My privilege has allowed me to avoid much of the hatred slung at people of color, women, immigrants, etc. In her last post, my wife spoke of the need to continue the conversation about race. This is my effort to wrestle with my own privilege and bring awareness to the way people of color are treated in the United States.
As I mentioned above, the color of my skin has never prompted the authorities to pull me over. I have only been pulled over once in my life, and that was when I was driving a 15 passenger van 10 miles over the speed limit in LA. That being said, I have not had one single incident in my entire life where I was pulled over just because I seemed “suspicious.”
It was not too long ago that whenever somebody brought up the idea of privilege, I automatically went on the defensive. “I’m not privileged! Look how much I have had to suffer!” Those were my go to arguments when it came to talking about privilege. In my mind, anyone wanting to talk about privilege was trying to either defame me, take that privilege away, or make me feel guilty. Those were the only motivations that I could think of when someone brought up the issue of privilege. I did not want to admit that I was benefitting from an unequal system.
Then Tamir Rice was shot and killed. Then Dante Parker. Then Michael Brown. Then John Crawford III. Then Eric Garner. Countless more names, each having a family and someone who loved them. I have never lost someone I love to violence and I cannot begin to imagine the pain of that loss.
Only after these tragedies did I began to start questioning my privilege and its role in my life. Earlier I mentioned that at one point I did not want to talk about privilege for fear of the guilt that would inevitably follow. I came to the realization that guilt is an essential part of the process. Yes I feel guilty that I am privileged, but it is not because I have it and others do not. It is because I have been insulated from violence while countless other families have experienced pain, fear and loss.
Earlier I mentioned that my gut reaction used to be defensive in response to questions of privilege. I think one of the reasons was that I thought by talking about privilege, it would mean it threatened my security. Somehow, if I were forced to recognize my privilege, I would somehow lose it or others would look down on me. I realize now that talking about privilege is exactly what is needed in order for us to continue the conversation about race. It is only when people with privilege admit to their privilege that we will be able to work together towards figuring out how to make life better for everyone. Yes I am privileged, but it is not worth holding on to it if it means that others are forced to live without. For too long I ignored my privilege because it meant that I could reap the benefits of it without feeling guilty. I can no longer stand by and benefit from a system that allows me to do so at the expense of others. So here I stand. I have been given opportunities and benefits that others have never experienced.
The point of admitting to my privilege is to continue the conversation. Things are unequal. How do I use the opportunities that have been given to me to help start conversations about privilege? I can point out where I have received preferential treatment. I can refuse to be complacent with my privilege. I can stand side by side with those who don’t have the privilege that I do. I know that I am not the savior of the race problem in America, and I fully admit I know little of the pain that many minority communities have felt. The race problem is not a “minority” issue, it is an American issue. If those with privilege refuse to admit to it, then we are doomed to pass along the same broken world to our children.