The truth is white people can take a break from conversations about race at any time. We can send our kids out to play, put on a hoodie, go for a run, take a drive, all without considering the risks involved. As white people, there’s no requisite conversation with our young sons about keeping their hands visible at all times because police brutality is rarely a danger for them (“George Floyd’s death the latest example of the devaluation of black lives,” June 1). Whites don’t often fear friends and family members being pulled over for a “routine stop.” As white parents, we aren’t afraid for our children’s safety 24/7 because we don’t need to be. Our racial privilege allows us to set these thoughts aside or not engage with them at all.
For whites, there’s no centuries-old history of enslavement nor are there constant contemporary reminders that the tendrils of subjugation and extreme inequities continue to exist and operate in plain sight. If you’re white, you’ll have access to a better education. A lower percentage of white students live in poverty and are expelled from school. Whites also receive better medical care and live longer on average than people of color. As a white person, you are more apt to get approved for a house or business loan from a bank. Whites have advantages in being considered for jobs, promotions, funding and positions of leadership. Even when the majority of an organization’s employees are black or brown, their bosses are almost exclusively white. The NFL and college sports dynasties are clear examples of condoning and celebrating white power and privilege.
Whites of all ages are less likely to be followed by store owners, less likely to be stopped by police, searched, detained, arrested and convicted. Though they are a minority population, people of color make up the largest percentage of those incarcerated. Whites are often released or not arrested for committing the very same crimes.
White people have freedom of movement. Groups of whites can assemble without suspicion from authorities; they don’t fear for their safety no matter the context for gathering. Think the Ku Klux Klan or the tiki torch bearers. Whites do not need to restrict their language, behavior, whereabouts or consider consequences of their actions in the same way as people of color.
Wherever you stand on the race as privilege spectrum, whether an advocate for equality, you have no opinion, or are full on racist, understand that as a white person, you can always opt out anytime. You can mourn the injustices, rant and rave, then turn off your computer and be done for the day. People of color never have that luxury. Race is part of a continually spoken and implied conversation that influences everything.
The next time you take a knee, think about what this action represents for you and consider why it might mean something different for others: reverence, respect, peaceful protest, solidarity. Chances are, the color of your skin will be a determining factor. “Taking a knee” continues to expand its meaning, most recently in gruesome fashion. As white people, we can take a break from these conversations at any time and that’s just a small part of our privilege.
Gina Pierleoni, Bel Air
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