I’m a woman. I’m bisexual. I’m educated. I’m a mother. I’m Jewish. I’m white.
So many identities make us up as individuals, as communities, as humans. But one weighing heavily on our hearts right now is in the light and we need to examine it. Let’s look at being white and discuss white privilege openly and vulnerably. Even if you think it couldn’t be you, just take a step back and look.
As a female, I have had to “womansplain” to my husband, among other men, what it’s like to be a woman. We are more easily taken against our will, held down, hurt. We are more susceptible to abuse and rape. And we think about it all the time. We’re on guard and it’s exhausting. Men do not think of such things.
Just as I, as a white person, never until recently realized that the same goes for Black people. Getting pulled over, being at home, watching god damned birds is apparently not ok unless you somehow, in that moment, are able to prove you are good and not just black. That is wrong, unjust, and sickening.
I’m writing this to say I finally see you. I see you. I stand with you. I will fight. I have seen my white privilege in action and it is abhorrent.
When my daughter was 5 months old, she, my 7 year old son, and I were on our way home from a friend’s house in 5:00 traffic. She was extremely fussy and crying inconsolably. I could only think of getting home to take care of her, but I was in bumper to bumper traffic and competing with red lights and train tracks. No one was moving.
As her screaming escalated, my adrenaline rushed and my vision closed in. Mothers are wired to hear our baby’s cries and I was stuck with no way to help her.
I saw a gas station to my right and pulled in as quickly as I could, but there was a truck and trailer stopped in front of me. I honked. I waved. I yelled. They didn’t get it. By then, fear and flight had taken over and I just started driving forward, hoping they would get out of my way.
Someone must have seen my irrational behaviors, because as soon as the truck finally figured out I was serious and moved, the cops were arriving.
Without a thought of consequence, I threw open my door and ran around the back of the car yelling, “I need to get my baby!” while two officers started toward me. I opened the back door, pulled my daughter out, and sat on the edge of the seat, sobbing.
The officers cautiously walked toward me and asked what was going on. I explained what happened and they reminded me I was acting erratically and asked if I was going to be ok to drive home. They were not empathetic. They were annoyed. One said, “We have kids, too, ma’am. We get it.” I wanted to yell and cuss at them and remind them they actually do not understand, but I just sat there. They double-checked that I was ok to drive my children home, then left.
Honest to God, in that moment, holding my now calm baby, hoping my son didn’t think I was crazy, I thought, “That would have gone differently if I were black”.
I thought about that the whole way home. If I were darker skinned, the likelihood that all I would’ve gotten was a condescending tone of voice and some fake understanding is low. I would have seemed like a threat to them, a danger in some way, and it would have been a scene with lots and lots of consequences.
My son said to me, “I’ve never seen you so upset.” I was proud of him for remaining so calm the whole time. If only he knew how lucky we all were and continue to be just because of what skin we came into the world wrapped in.
There was white privilege and the law enforcement system working for me, a white woman with white children. I was acutely aware at that moment. Then for 2 years, I did nothing but feel sad and gasp at the horror our Black communities endure without examining it further or taking actions to help.
Until recently, when I started actually listening and learning from strong black women and men, I didn’t even really understand what white privilege was and how it was working for me. So, I set my “how can I be racist if I’m such a nice person” convictions aside and opened my eyes and heart to challenge long-standing beliefs.
I took a look at our community and the lack of diversity in it. No, we don’t overtly treat people differently based on race, but we are also exposed to very little outside our white bubble. My children and I reap a whole lot of unseen rewards from the system just because of the color of our skin. So it is not enough to say I have a black friend. Or I’m not racist. Or I like the show “Insecure” and the comedian Dave Chappelle. There’s no hashtagging our way out of this. That’s too easy and does nothing to help change the systemic racism powered by white supremacy continuing to poison this country.
Recognizing the truths of how we are complicit in the system that works to benefit me and my family and put so many others at a disadvantage is the real work. It’s time to get deep into those uncomfortable feelings and make lasting changes.
I am educating myself and having difficult conversations. I will rally my white friends, male and female. I will teach my children not to sit idly by. My hope is that they will not say or believe things I used to like, “I grew up poor and made my way to college. My Jewish ancestors were in Europe during slavery.”
I’m sick at my stomach thinking of how I justified my “non-racism.” My ancestor’s persecution and my family’s financial struggles has nothing to do with the fact that Black people are going through countless acts of bigotry and violence today and every day.
My reality is that I lived in a trailer park in high school, worked at a strip club for college money, and had an abortion in my early 20s. I also graduated from college, have a flourishing career, and live in a nice neighborhood with “good” schools. My skin color made ALL OF THAT EASIER. Every last experience. And I didn’t even know it.
I do now. And I say no more. I should not have any more access to a life of health and opportunity than anyone else.
It is imperative to follow and support and lift up Black voices so that they may do everything from standing on a sidewalk to getting pulled over and feeling crazy about their crying children with the implicit safety from racism that I feel every day.
We have to care for each other. It’s time to stop feeling whiny and guilty about our ignorance lack of honesty. No more running away from our history and our complicity. We need to sit in those hard feelings, the ones Black people feel all the time, so we may take those emotions and use it as fuel to listen to Black leaders and to push forward with all of our human brothers and sisters.