Thoughts on Ferguson: White Privilege in America

(A guest blog post by Dana Becker...)

 

I’ve had my heart broken before – so I am more cautious in relationships.

I’ve been lied to – so I have a bit more trouble trusting.

I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck – so I may make occasional frivolous purchases because I finally have a little extra.

I’ve survived 3 car wrecks when the car I was in was hit from behind – so I’m slightly paranoid about people riding on my bumper.

I’ve experienced the sting of gossip – so I try to avoid spreading rumors.

I’ve lost out on opportunities because I’m a woman – so I may assume mistreatment based on gender before looking to another cause when denied other opportunities.

Whether you can relate to any of my experiences or not, you cannot deny me those experiences. You cannot take away my need to respond the way I do in certain situations based on my experiences. And if you cannot look at life through my lens, you cannot judge me for how I live it.

This is what I need white people to understand about what it means to be black in America.

I have never walked into a store and had to wonder if clerks are paying careful attention to me because of the color of my skin.

I have never had someone cross the street to avoid walking by me on a sidewalk because of the color of my skin.

I have never been pulled over by a police officer and had to wonder if his pulling me over had anything to do with the color of my skin.

I have never applied for a job that I didn’t get and worried that it was because of the color of my skin.

I have never had anyone assume I was in school just to play ball rather than get a great education because of the color of my skin.

I have never walked into a restaurant and been denied service or treated poorly because of the color of my skin.

I have never been called hateful names because of the color of my skin.

I have never watched TV and gone for hours before realizing I haven’t seen anyone with the same color of skin as me.

There is not a single person in my family as far as I know who was ever sold to another human being because of the color of his or her skin – much less beaten, raped, starved, ripped away from family members or generally treated as less than human.

If I had experienced those things – if I had been forced to live my life looking through a lens of my skin color – I feel confident I would be protesting in Ferguson. I would be marching with signs, yelling, screaming, angry. I would want to tear things up and punch things. I would want my voice to be heard. Because I would be tired of living in a world where not every injustice or mistreatment or unfortunate incident is about race - but because I cannot help wondering if it is.

 So as we follow the 24-hour news cycle and scroll through Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, I’d like to ask my white brothers and sisters to pause for a moment and know that we don’t have to agree and we don’t have to understand. But we cannot deny the experiences of black men and women in America today. We cannot take away their need to respond the way they do in certain situations based on their experiences. And if we cannot look at our lives through their lens, we cannot judge them for how they live their lives.

We must empathize. We must love. We must seek to comfort and support. And we must take responsibility wherever we can for making sure that we are changing the black experience in America as it relates to mistreatment and injustice. Because we, as white people living in a world of white privilege, have the power to do so. And that’s what it’s like to be white in America.