I recently read a post by a young man from Princeton titled Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege. He very arrogantly ended his piece with “I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.”
Let me start by revealing some of my character. I am a Black woman, age 53. I am a single parent of 1 child and grandparent of 1 child. I served in the U.S. Air Force and received my training as a computer programmer and analyst specialist. Prior to the Air Force, I completed 2 years of college. Afterwards, I completed an additional 2 years of college taking classes to stay current for work at my own expense. I’ve never been arrested. My son has been arrested once for speeding from Iowa to Chicago to try to make the birth of his daughter, sadly, he didn't make it for her birth. I am not a drug addict or alcoholic or gang member, nor is my son. I have worked the same job as a computer programmer/analyst for 27 years and same profession for 32 years. While things have not been easy for me, I have worked very hard to get where I am and nothing was just given to me or any of my family and friends. If character was a basis of privilege, I would be, but due to the color of my skin, I most definitely am not privileged, not by U.S. standards.
I don’t ask that he apologize for anything, but suggest he go back and reexamine privilege and the privileges he has using a criteria to do so.
Education is key, but rather than tracing his personal history to justify his assertion of having checked his privilege, I’d like him to spend some time tracing United States history. Not the whitewashed version but the down and dirty stuff.
I challenge him to look at slavery and its propensity for horror and trauma. Review chattel slavery’s history of rape, molestation, mutilation, physical abuse, child abuse, sex slaves, forced labor and dehumanization (reducing people to the status of cow, dog, cat or chair) of an entire people and how it not only affects them and their descendants, but also the behavior and beliefs of other citizens and their descendants that encounter them (Blacks) as a result of being subjected to abiding by the governmental discriminations. During this study, understand and remember that this was a governmental law and some people are still having a problem letting some of it go. (Remember, slaves didn’t have therapist and neither did their children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.)
Understand that after slavery was over, the law allowed Whites to effectively continue slavery through sharecropping, a process that rarely allowed the sharecropper to get out of debt.
Review the red summer of 1919, Black wall street, or Rosewood and as you study these events, remember the Black people that were murdered in these events never found justice. Both their police departments and military not only participated in the abuse and murder of Black people, they made no effort to arrest anyone for the attacks; also remember, those very same Black people were paying the same taxes as Whites.
Take the time to review the history of lynching in the United States. As you review this history, remember that up until the 1960s, it was a rarity that a lynching was investigated. No one cared that Black people were being murdered other than other Black people. The police did not serve and protect the people that were lynched or their families. The police did not investigate the crime and sometimes participated in the lynching of its Black citizens.
Take a good hard look at Jim Crow laws which were the law of the land from the 1880s to the 1960s. For example there was actually a law that stated it shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race. The government did not want Blacks & Whites to be within 2 blocks of one another. There were also laws that made it “unlawful” to sell Black people houses in certain areas; my first house, up until the 1960s civil rights act, it was against the LAW to sell that house to Black people (me, 1st Black owner of the home).
Take a good long hard look at racial profiling -- aka government sanctioned harassment of citizens. Remember that racial profiling has existed since slavery and has only expanded to other races in recent years. Also, it was against the law for a Black person to pass as White to escape the injustices committed against them (which some people tried to do).
Take the time to review separate but equal and come to the same conclusion the supreme court came to, separate is not necessarily equal.
Look at education in the United States. Remember that it was against the law to educated slaves, and understand that after slavery, there were some that were still opposed to educating Blacks. While I am not familiar with how it works now, even through the 1990s, many Black schools still received the cast-off books of White schools for its students.
I would like to ask the young man how he feels when he goes in a store to buy anything and the security guard begins to follow him around because he is White or Jewish? If his answer is that it doesn’t happen to him, then he must realize it is the result of his privilege, not his character.
I would like to ask the young man how many times per month do the police stop him for DWW (driving while white) or DWJ (driving while Jewish) and how he feels when they point their gun in his face and search his car? If his answer is that it doesn’t happen to him, then he must realize it is the result of his privilege, not his character.
I would like to ask the young man how many times in his entire life a stranger has put their hands in his hair without his permission? If his answer is that it doesn’t happen to him or once or twice when he was a child, then he must realize it is the result of his privilege, not his character.
I would like to ask the young man how many people have told him he was attractive to be White or Jewish? If his answer is that it doesn’t happen to him, then he must realize it is the result of his privilege, not his character.
I would like to ask the young man how well supplied his school was prior to Princeton? If his answer is that it was well supplied and had all he needed for an education, then he must realize it is the result of his privilege, not his character.
I would like to ask the young man how many people have ever rudely (out loud) mused about his use of food stamps/link and suggested he get a job because he was White or Jewish, even though that person was using link and he was not? Or complained about the car he drives? If his answer is that it doesn’t happen to him, then he must realize it is the result of his privilege, not his character.
He proudly spewed off the trials of his family members due to the holocaust, but failed to realize that until recent years, people affected directly by slavery were still alive. My great-grandmother who was born in 1886 lived until about 1988. She knew people affected by slavery and so did my grandmother and mother. Was it something we talked about? No. My point is that Jews are not the only people to have horribly suffered and unlike Blacks, they had the world at their back protecting them, while Blacks still have challenges because of the color of their skin.
The young man claimed the trials of his relatives as his own, the average Black person has their own trials to claim in addition to their ancestors. Also, what happens to a child reared by people tramatized all around them, people in dire need of therapy.
I realize this young man has a lot of growing up to do and like most late teens/early twenty-somethings, he hasn’t got a clue about what he’s saying. The sad part is that even though I will leave the link for this at his post, I doubt he will have the courage to read, let alone understand what I have tried to relate in such a small piece. On the outside chance I am wrong, I hope he will have the courage to study African American history, women’s history, Asian history, Native American history and Latino history. Not just the repeated blurbs, but really take the time to study these other portions of U.S. history. If he still feels his privilege is the basis of his character and not by virtue of his skin... well then.
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