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Meador: Walking in a child’s shoes

 

Consider what you don't have to worry about before you reject white privilege

A lifelong friend called to ask the saddest question I have ever been asked.

Guest Writer

Guest writer Matthew Meador landed his first newspaper gig as a columnist at a weekly paper in 1984. Among the last of the moderate Republicans, Matt’s friends have always been Democrats. For every one issue people fight over, Matt is convinced we have at least 100 things in common — he believes if we talked out most of our differences, we’d find we were closer than we thought.

It was rhetorical, mind you. My friend knew I wouldn’t have the answer. But I understood the need to ask sometimes outweighs the existence of an easy solution.

In this time of nationwide turmoil, my friend’s sister was a well-known attorney in St. Louis, an arbiter who had the gift of gab and a fiery temperament to back it. For 15 years, her radio show had captivated and motivated Midwesterners to reject the status quo and advocate for positive change.

During the Ferguson riots in 2014, my friend’s firebrand sister was all over the national news, her lucid commentary offering an alternative to what had always been before — what had never worked.

But then, unexpectedly, my friend’s sister died. She died leaving behind an 11-year-old son in my friend's care. And my friend called me asking, “How am I going to raise a Black male child in this world?”

It pains me that I need to spell it out, but my friend is a Black man. And he was asking, “How am I going to raise a Black son in this world?”

It’s weird how you’re hit with it — hit with the magnitude of a question that doesn’t have an answer. You know it the moment it’s asked and you know no one will ever ask you a sadder question — a question with so many wrong answers. “How am I going to raise a Black child in this world?”

What my friend meant was: How am I going to shepherd this Black youth through the labyrinth of complicated lessons that makes a Black man thrive in a world that doesn’t seem to want him to even survive? These are lessons white men don’t ever see.

The term white privilege has been bandied about in recent months, but it might be better described as Black non-privilege.

If you find the term objectionable, please keep reading. I’ll explain it in terms that are clear and deeply personal.

Recently, I listened to a white person lament her upbringing.

“I was raised in an alcoholic home, my entire childhood was ruined by alcoholism. I had no privilege!” she exclaimed, angry. “My early years are proof there is no such thing as white privilege.”

Everyone, she said, has his or her own hurdles. Because her early life sucked, white privilege couldn't possibly exist.

“I had no privilege!” she insisted. “There is no white privilege!”

Actually, she did and does have white privilege. And she is totally missing the point.

White privilege has nothing to do with how difficult a white kid’s childhood was, how hard a white child had it growing up. White privilege is not related to an abusive childhood, to general poverty, to awful parents.

It’s not related to any experiences transcending race, religion, color, culture or any other grouping. People from any origin can experience a difficult upbringing or a trying adolescence.

White privilege manifests itself in the details you never thought about because you didn’t have to — details Black people face constantly.

It isn’t anything to be ashamed of. You didn’t ask for it and it isn’t something you can give up.

But to understand your friends of color, you should be aware of white privilege, as it makes your life easier in ways you never thought of — ways through which my friend must now shepherd his Black son.

White privilege starts very small.

It’s me crossing the street, totally ignored by the older white woman in the Lexus waiting for the light to turn green — the same woman who hits the loud electric car door locks when she sees the Black boy crossing six feet behind me. It's me shopping at Nordstrom, free to wander without scrutiny, while the security staff trails the Black teenager who came in right after me.

White privilege is another department store offering a wide variety of makeup colors for white women, but few for women of color. It's a white woman entering a boutique with a large shoulder bag and browsing at her leisure, while the Black girl behind her is asked to leave her bag at the counter.

It's me enjoying excellent service at my favorite bistro, while the Black couple three tables over experience lousy service because the waiter incorrectly assumes they’re lousy tippers. It's another resident holding the lobby door of my secure apartment building open for me, even though he doesn’t know me, but quickly pulling it shut behind me because a Black man is heading our way.

White privilege is me relaxing poolside at a resort, unmolested by the security staff, while members of the Black family two rooms down are repeatedly asked to produce a pool pass, parking permit or room key to prove they are legitimate guests.

It's me ordering the Grand Slam at Denny’s and settling the bill when I’m finished, while the Black party seated across the dining room is asked to pay in advance because the white manager thinks they look “suspicious.” It's me applying for a loan to buy a house and winning quick approval, even without stellar credit, when a Black family of similar means is denied repeatedly.

White privilege is a Black home appraised well below market value, but revalued substantially higher after the owners “whitewash” it by removing all objects indicating the occupants are Black. It's me being able to freely canvass neighborhoods in my legislative district during during a reelection run, while the Black legislator in the neighboring district arouses enough suspicion to generate multiple 911 calls.

It's me carelessly fumbling with my documents after being stopped for a minor traffic violation, while the Black man the cop stopped earlier had to very carefully maintain awareness as he slowly moved his hands, asking permission each time to avoid any appearance of reaching for a weapon. It's the same cop allowing me to remain in my car while he writes me up when the Black motorist faces the emasculating, humiliating risk of being handcuffed, detained and left to sit on the curb to await his ticket.

People like George Floyd risk paying for alleged minor crimes with their lives, but people like me do not. That's white privilege.

Remember when I said my white privilege was deeply personal?

White privilege is me getting busted on federal cocaine charges in the early 1990s and enjoying a complicated adjudication that included six months in a cushy federal halfway house instead of jail time. My Black friend would likely still be serving his prison sentence for the same crime, even as I type these words.

Each of these examples I have witnessed myself.

I have felt pain in my heart when I’ve looked at the eyes of a Black man who is asked for the thousandth time to prove he belongs in a place where some nosy white person thinks he shouldn’t be. It's a look of utter resignation. And most Black people I know bear this burden with grace and good humor, even though doing so must be immensely difficult.

My friend must now teach his new adolescent son how to behave in a world that gives me a free pass in a thousand ways I never consider, even as it has already tried and convicted my friend’s child before he venture out into the world on his own.

If you’ve been unfairly asked to show a parking permit or check your purse at a shop counter, please remember these things happen to Black people with mind-numbing regularity — way more than they happen to white people.

Next time you hear the term white privilege, please don’t dismiss it or mock it. It's not a personal condemnation.

Instead, please think of the friend who asked me the most heart-wrenching question I’ve ever heard: How can I raise a young Black son in this world?

CUTLINE

 

Comments

Hibb

How can I raise a young Black son in this world?

The author raises a valid point in regards to what is termed "white privilege" and how it is a natural segregator and certainly not a source for bringing unity, peace and prosperity to all men.

The prospect of raising a "black child" in today's economy of hateful rhetoric, wanton violence, and even death is a reality that most people will never know and cannot even imagine. There are those that are "oral" in their practice of racism and while their words can and do hurt, they do not pierce the soul or haunt the mind as much as those moments where racism is communicated (commission/omission) through actions, expressions, and body language. The racial insinuation slices deeper than a racially-motivated jab.

Now comes a reality check...

We will never be able to end racism as long as we have mirrors.

Say what?!

As long as we have the ability to look and compare ourselves to others and recognize the genetic differences of complexion, hair, etc... then there will be those that are favored over those that are not. We do that in a variety of classes like where at the food court we see someone fat and point them out. We do the same of those that are different in other ways as well. Our dress, skin color and demeanor are but precursors to what is to come....

There is, however, a classical difference between the supposed slights and sufferings of others verses that of the black man's experience. In this regard, it is "institutional racism" that is experienced by the black man and it is the most dangerous of all kinds, as it silently dictates norms and other atrocities to the long list of abuses leveled at the black man. Children are tacitly (and sometimes directly) taught the basic precepts of institutional racism and it is firmly entrenched in American society. Why? Because we have never come to terms with our past and those very crimes committed by others in the name of slavery.