Point of View Columns

What White Privilege Really Looks Like

 It is certainly too bad that too many white Americans, and some Black Americans, do not want the truth of white privilege in this country to be taught in public schools. It is too bad, because with an understanding of white privilege in an historical context, all Americans would be able to understanding the dystopian disconnect that exists between the glorious stated ideals of this country and its dissonant reality. Consider a few examples from recent history:

Exhibit 1

Consider the fact that on January 6, 2021, an overwhelmingly white mob made up of thousands of armed and angry men and women stormed the Capitol with the sole purpose of preventing the lawful election of the President of the United States. An act of subversion and insurrection without precedent.

In the aftermath, only one of the invaders was killed by the beleaguered law enforcement personnel. Most of the participants have never been arrested, much less charged with a crime. Of those who have been charged with a crime, no one has received a sentence in excess of four years, and most of those convicted to date have been sentenced to very light sentences or community service.

At the time and since, many observers have noted that if the insurrectionists, men and women determined to overthrow the Constitution of the United States, had been Black, there would have been Black blood all over the steps of the Capitol and there would have been a shortage of body bags in the District of Columbia. The rationale for that point of view is that in so many of the urban protests and insurrections which have involved the destruction of property, but never the overthrow of the Constitution, Black men and women have been gunned down regardless of the reasons for their protest – like unjustified the murder of Black men and women and children by the police.

Exhibit 2

At the age of seventeen, a young white man by the name of Kyle Rittenhouse drove from his home in Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin with an automatic rifle in tow. His stated purpose was to provide medical assistance and security during the protests in Kenosha in the aftermath of the brutal police shooting of James Blake.

Rittenhouse, in full view of law enforcement, killed two of the protestors and seriously injured a third, and walked away. He is now on trial claiming self-defense and there is a very real possibility that he will be acquitted and almost certainly will not be convicted of murder.

Consider the following hypothetical – an armed Black teenager shows up during violent street protests and starts shooting and killing in front of the police. Not only would that teenager be dead, there would be very little public remorse for his demise.

Consider that a young Black boy, Tamir Rice, was 12 years old and playing with a toy gun in a playground in Cleveland, Ohio when he was shot and killed by the police and to this day there has never been a conviction with respect to his murder.

Exhibit 3

Last year three white men saw a Black man jogging through a suburban neighborhood and accosted him and shot and killed because they suspected that he might be responsible for a series of non-violent burglaries in the neighborhood. Ahmad Arbery was unarmed and by all video accounts, only tried to defend himself and escape from armed white strangers in Georgia (Black people in Georgia have a well-founded fear of armed white strangers).

The three murderers are now on trial before a jury of eleven white people and one Black person. Defense counsel has complained about “Black pastors in the courtroom” and it is a safe prediction that this jury will not return with a unanimous verdict to convict.

Consider what the outcome would have been if three Black men had accosted a white jogger and shot him to death without reasonable cause. It is fair to say that, in whatever state, the defendants would be glad to achieve a life sentence plea bargain.

The point of these examples is to provide some context for the notion of white privilege, particularly when seen in juxtaposition to the life and existence of Black Americans in similar situation.

The lofty aspirations in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are admirable and have been emulated in many countries around the world. But is very clear that the United States of America has a long way to go to live up to those aspirations.

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