Several years ago I was a recipient of white privilege without even realizing it. The thing that brought that revelation home came last week when Philando Castile was shot by a police officer. He was pulled over for a tail light that was out, he had a job he had a family, there was a child in the car…
Our family had recently relocated to Maryland, we were driving to see Joyce’s parents, as we came through the Deep Creek area the lights flashed behind us, and that drop in the pit of your stomach that you get when you are pulled over for speeding hit. I didn’t think I had been speeding but who knew, it was dark, the kids were in the car and so I pulled to the side of the road. The officer came to the window I rolled it down and he asked how I was doing and if I knew that my tail light was out? Of course I didn’t realize the light was out, because even though I know just like everyone else does you’re supposed to check those things I didn’t, who really does? The officer was really polite, I don’t even remember him asking for my license or registration. Just a quick warning and an admonition to get that tail light fixed, he went back to his cruiser turned on the lights turned around and went down the road, I started the old station wagon up and headed on to the in-laws. Simple as that, but what if?
That’s been the question that most white people are afraid to ask themselves, and like so many questions the reason we are afraid to ask it, usually stems from the fact that we know the answer. Being white has it’s perks, more-so than any other race in America today. We rail against affirmative action, we judge entire people groups based on preconceived notions of what “those people” are like, or on the actions of a few. We talk about justice and fairness and the plight of the inner city, we roll though certain neighborhoods and suddenly roll up all the windows and lock all the doors based on one thing the color of the people who are hanging out in their community doing what every white kid of the 80s did on any given Saturday growing up as soon as they got old enough to realize the freedom of the mall and the skating rink. No one ever pulled up to the doors of the Skate Zone back where I was from and suddenly got safety conscious because of the mob of white teenagers standing in line waiting to get in.
We point to the fact that black on black crime is a huge problem, as if that’s justification for our bigoted views. Even white poor people in America are given more sympathy than black poor people. The sadness that is large swaths of the Appalachian mountains and the people that live there is huge, but it’s easy to find missions trips and volunteer opportunities to those areas. Not many moms and dads would have issue with sending their kids to help those poor people in the mountains, but offer the same trip to some of the blighted housing projects inhabited by large numbers of black families and suddenly there are concerns for safety.
As a Christ follower I cringe every time certain famous evangelicals open their mouth in the public arena. They don’t speak for me, and a vast majority of Christians but they are the ones that get the press, they are the ones that get the air time, and therefore they are the ones that all Christians are judged by. I feel the same way about white people who say all lives matter in response to the Black Lives matter movement, and the reason is simple. My interaction with that officer in the tail light instance shows that white lives matter, in a way that Black lives do not, and it’s not just the seeming indiscriminant killing of black men that I’m talking about. There is more to living than the act of breathing. Every time I roll up the windows and lock the doors when driving through a black neighborhood, I’m automatically devaluing every life in that neighborhood, when I use the absent father argument regarding a kids behavior, and I don’t know if that father is absent, but I base it on their skin color, I’m devaluing black lives. When I talk about Welfare and really mean to say Black, or Latino people are a drain on society, I am devaluing lives that are not white.
You get the picture. Living is more than breathing, It’s what we do while we are breathing, it’s how we interact with our world, and those around us. White people are the only ones I know that can have in their history a propensity to oppress anyone that doesn’t look like them, and when those people groups begin to say enough is enough. When they start to stand up and say “wait, I am a human being just like you are, I have all the same organs you do, I breathe the same way, I live and laugh and love, the same way you do. My life matters, everyone that looks like me matters as well.” The white person gets worried and spins it to all lives matter, because the oppression is all they know. It’s the way things have always been, and if other people begin to get the same perks that I have, if they get the same respect I have, if that black family starts driving through my white neighborhood and locks their doors, I am going to lose something, I’m going to lose my sense of place, my understanding of the order of things will be shattered, my whiteness will be threatened.
What bothers me most is the words I hear people claiming to follow Christ uttering. Justifying the actions of the police, calling their black brothers and sisters to a higher standard than they are willing to take. Supporting law enforcement blindly. All of it strays from this principle found in the Bible.
Somehow we have forgotten this, as we have allowed ourselves to be segregated on Sunday morning. When we don’t stand with our fellow Christ Followers, when we blame them, or say well it’s sad but…when we do all of those things we are saying well actually In Christ there is White people and then everyone else, and hey if everyone else would realize that we are right and we have the corner on the market of faith then their lives would be better. If they would just learn their place…
Sure we don’t say those things because again we are afraid to ask that on question. What if…
What if I really am prejudice, what if I really do see my skin tone as the “right” skin tone? What if it was my son, or daughter or husband or father that was shot by an officer. What if…I was honest enough to admit that not only does white privilege exist but that I am so happy that I benefit from it.
What if I found out where the next protest would be, and what if I would head down and stand shoulder to shoulder with another person, because until his or her life matters to me personally, and until I show myself and them that their life matters to me personally, all lives don’t really matter to me?