I don’t know what happened between Michael Brown and the man who shot him. I wasn’t there and I believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilty. But there are a few things that I do know.
I know that I was taught to find the police if I feel unsafe. I know that I don’t worry about my brother getting shot in the street. I know that what’s happening in Ferguson would never—could never—happen in my neighborhood. And I know all of that related to the fact that I’m white.
Having white privilege doesn’t make you racist but not acknowledging that privilege kind of does. It’s not enough that you personally treat all people equally or that you voted for Obama or that a bunch of your friends are not white. The system is broken. Not acknowledging that—not seeing the benefits that you reap that others do not—just perpetuates that system, in all its brokenness.
That brokenness is what leads us to discussing whether Brown was a good kid bound for college or a robber. As if either determines the worth of his life or the tragedy of his death. It’s why sentences for black offenders are 10% longer than white offenders who have committed the same crime. It’s why white people commit heinous crimes and we immediately ask about their mental state but non-whites commit crimes and it’s a result of their culture or character.
White privilege doesn’t mean I’ve never struggled in my life. It doesn’t mean I haven’t worked hard to get where I am. It means that “colorblindness” isn’t enough—that I have to look closely enough at the world around me to see the colored lens that’s already there. It means that I have to examine what prejudices are engrained within me just through living in this world. It means that whatever pride I have in my accomplishments should be met with even greater gratitude for the opportunities I’ve had that others have not. And it means that I owe it to the world to help it become a place where others get them too. Just because I didn’t break it, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t help fix it. And it needs a lot of fixing…