I’m pushing a noisy old lawnmower around my backyard trying to avoid dog poo and sweating like a pig when the thought occurred to me – “I don’t feel privileged!”
Nearly two weeks after the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police there have been protests nationwide calling for reform. Reforms in the way the police department interact with people of color. Reforms in centuries old racism. Reforms in how we see ourselves and others.
White Silence! Silence is violence! White privilege!
These terms have been in the news as the nationwide mourning of George Floyd continues. Just to be clear I am referring to the peaceful protest that have swept the nation and even the globe. I am not referring to the opportunistic thugs that have looted, burned and assaulted our cities.
These terms which have been part of the discussion will have one of two effects among the white community. One reaction, sadly my first reaction, was to dismiss this as rhetorical and not at all relevant to me or anyone I know. This knee-jerk reaction, I have come to see, is an insult to a community different from mine and serves as a barrier to both any real conversation and lasting change. The other reaction to these terms and others like them used recently is self-evaluation. This is the reaction which hit me as I mowed my lawn yesterday.
But I don’t feel privileged !
I continued pushing that mower as I took a quick look over my life. Especially the early years. Born into a large family which struggled to survive at or just above the poverty line only to later be shattered by alcoholism and domestic violence we weren’t the typical white American family. Raised by elderly grandparents whose passing left me emancipated way too soon. Experimenting with drugs and alcohol as I made my way into adulthood I grew up angry and without any real direction.
Where in those years did I benefit from being a privileged white boy?
Later, as I grew, I enrolled in and dropped out of college, wandered from one construction job to another, in and out of relationships. The aimless wandering continued for years. Eventually I met someone, dated, married, looked into buying a home, etc. Still not feeling privileged my historical search continued.
Then it hit me! How can I know what I don’t know?
What I mean by that is how can I know what awful incidents that I have not suffered because I am white. I have been pulled over by police and sometimes been let go with a warning and others times received a ticket but nothing else. I have never been refused service or turned away because of my skin color. I have been hired for jobs that I applied for but never, until yesterday, considered if I would have been hired were I black.
Throughout all of my 60 plus years I was unaware of what difficulties I had not experienced simply by being white. In looking back I can see how my life got better over time because of the help I found along the way. I can easily say that had it not been for certain individuals at different times in my life I would not be where I am today. I have no way of knowing for certain but I do suspect that these opportunities may not have been made available to a person of color.
If this means that I am a privileged white man I can only say that I never asked for it.
I have never had a problem with color. I know many white people say that but I don’t. I’m more likely to judge you by your behavior, character or cleanliness but not color. Yes, I said I judge. We all do. Let’s not pretend we don’t. My sociology professor gave the class an amazing statistic years ago. He said that 90% of who we are is based on outward influences (the people and world around us as we grow) and that 10% is from our own personality within us. Nature versus Nurture may be a never-ending debate but for me I side with my professor. Racism is genetic. You get it from your parents.
I can’t say how or when we as a people will bring racism to an end but I do know what will not help to bring about change. The violence and retaliation we have seen these past two weeks will not bring about change. I know people are hurt, angry, fed up and frustrated but burning buildings and beating each other up will not work.
We have a heart problem! A type of heart disease that has only one cure!
Jesus is the answer to any and all of our problems.
Until a person gives their life and heart over to Jesus they will be unable to love, accept or understand how another person feels. In our own limited ability we will only thrash about in this pool we call life and never safely reach the shore. Bigotry, hatred, envy, racism, superiority, privilege are not from God. He Loves everyone equally and so should we.
This is my only thought. My only hope for the people around me in my community and for the nation or world wide. I apparently am a privileged white man even if I am stepping in dog poo as I push this mower around my yard. I didn’t ask for preferential treatment. I won’t apologize for it either because it is not what I wanted. What I will do is all that I can do – stand up for what is right. Speak out against hatred and bigotry. Pray for peace and an end to the inequality that has plagued our nation for far too long. I ask anyone and everyone who reads these words to do the same.
Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock got pulled over and it was very insightful. God has a way of getting His point across. In scripture when we see the same thing repeated several times it is God’s way of emphasizing that point. Last night after my revelation while mowing the lawn I watched an episode of Comedians in cars getting coffee. Near the end of the show Jerry Seinfeld is driving very fast in a sports car with his guest Chris Rock beside him. They get pulled over and Jerry thinks it’s the funniest thing considering he is filming a show but Chris Rock is nervous. Chris expresses his nervousness by instructing jerry on what he should do and says that his first thought is “where’s my license, even?” The situation exemplifies the difference between us. One man, white, and laughing at the situation and the other, black, and obviously worried about the possible outcome. It left me feeling sad.