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The Truth About White Privilege

As explained by a white mom from the Midwest

Johnny Silvercloud / Shutterstock
Johnny Silvercloud / Shutterstock

As a woman who is barely five feet tall, I have always been proud of the fact that my son is a 6-foot-tall, strong young man. While I clearly had no control over which genes he happened to end up with, I somehow like to take credit for this big strong boy’s height and broad shoulders. It’s a mom thing, I guess.

At 16, he is more independent than ever. He runs around town all the time – both alone and with his friends. But he’s a good kid. He helps around the house and he gets good grades. I’m super proud of him.

But last year, when he was 15, he was out with one of his friends one night, and the local police stopped them. It seems they had received a call about a couple of boys matching their descriptions breaking into cars.

The police detained my son and his friend while they tried to figure out if they were the guilty parties. After 20 minutes or so, they decided the boys were innocent and gave them a ride home.

The officers spoke to me and explained what had happened. They apologized for detaining the boys in error and went on their way.

Of course, I politely thanked them as they left, but I was infuriated. How DARE they think my honor roll student would break into cars? Why were they assuming he was a bad kid? Who were they to stop my kid for no good reason?

I got over it, of course. And I didn’t really think about it again much until recently.

As I think back on this incident tonight, I am painfully aware of my white privelege.

If you’re white, you probably cringed when you read that.

I get it – but please keep reading. This is important.

I hear a lot of white people say that there’s no such thing as white privilege. They say, “White people struggle too.”

They remind us that there are plenty of poor white people. White people who go hungry and homeless. White people who are the victims of violent crimes and who get unfairly convicted of crimes.

“What privilege?” they ask.

Listen, I’ve gone through some hard times too. We all have. And sometimes, we cannot imagine that we have any sort of privilege at all.

But I thought I understood the whole “white privilege” thing.

I thought I realized a long time ago what “white privilege” means. After all, I can go shopping without being followed through the store while my black friends can’t always enjoy such freedom. I can drive a car and not worry too much about being pulled over for driving while white. I can be walking down the street in a hoodie and headphones rocking out to my favorite music and assume I’m safe. I can call the police if I’m scared and expect them to help me out.

You know. White privilege.

But now I understand that is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg, and I want to apologize for not understanding sooner.

So let me just say this, right here and now: I’m so sorry.

I am sorry that I didn’t fully understand until now. Watching the (painful) video of George Floyd’s murder broke my heart and changed me – it woke me up.

As I watched in horror as this man’s life was taken from him, slowly, painfully and without reason, I heard him call out for his mother.

The word “mama” can strike your heart in a powerful way – especially when it is cried out in desperation. As the mother of a tall, broad-shouldered son, it hit me that way as I heard George Floyd utter it among his last few words.

I immediately burst into tears and at that moment, I came to a whole new understanding of my white privilege and of what it all meant. I am ashamed to admit that I never fully wrapped my head around this before.

I am sharing this publicly because I hope it will help someone else understand – because until we ALL understand and have empathy, we cannot end this injustice.

I told you about my son getting unfairly detained by the police for a crime he didn’t commit and how angry I was, right? Well, I did not really have the right to be angry, but my white privelege allowed it to happen.

Because if I were the mother of a black son, I’d probably just be grateful that my son made it home that night.

This is white privilege.

See, as the mother of a white son, I have the privilege of sending my child into the world and not worry that he may end up dead because of the color of his skin. I can feel safe in knowing that I have taught him to be respectful and that this simple skill will keep him safe in any sort of situation that involves police officers.

Mothers of black sons do not have this privilege. They teach their sons to have respect too. But they also have to teach them that the police might hurt or even kill them. And even if these boys and men are 100 percent respectful and remain calm without resisting or causing any trouble, the mom of a black son cannot rest assured that her son will come home alive.

This is completely unacceptable. We must do better.

We must have empathy for black mothers, and for their sons. And for all black Americans. As a young black man called RomeAlone2 noted in a recent tweet, this should not be a “black against white” issue – it should be an “everyone against racists” issue.

The system is broken and until we fix it, there can be no peace.

To my fellow white people, this might make you uncomfortable. I get it.

While I have never been a racist, I have often been very uncomfortable discussing race because I didn’t want to offend anyone. And I know a lot of white people who feel the same way. But we must stop being quiet and start standing up and speaking out against this injustice.

We must support our black brothers and sisters now.

I’m not asking you to apologize for your skin color.

Please understand that the term “white privilege” doesn’t mean our lives aren’t difficult and that we live some kind of charmed life. It just means that, in general, our lives haven’t been made more difficult because of our skin color.

But this isn’t about us.

This isn’t an “all lives matter” issue. Our lives are not in danger every day because of our skin color. This is a black lives matter issue. We must stand with black people and create real change.

Black lives matter.

Black people deserve the same respect as white people. Black mothers deserve to feel safe that their sons will make it home at night. And we must stand together to show our government that we will accept nothing less.

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