“[T]here is so much going on in the world that is just not right, it’s just hard to even think about… That’s a privilege I have, as a white middle class fully employed male in the United States. Everything is political and charged because politics is people and people are charged. There is little clarity to be found anywhere.”Source: Phil Gerbyshak, May 28, 2020.
I virtually met Phil over a decade ago in social media circles, and we ate dinner together a few years ago when he came to Boston. He wrote about the loss of clarity on Facebook three days after George Floyd was killed by police.
George’s name (and that of Amy Cooper, the dog walker who racially confronted birdwatcher Christian Cooper, no relation) were plastered across news headlines. Because I wasn’t actively consuming the news, I didn’t comprehend the connection between George, Amy, and Phil.
It was only after Phil wrote about white privilege on his Facebook post and amassed dozens of reactions and comments, including my then-comment of incredulity (because I hadn’t read the articles or watched the videos), that I went back in time and performed due diligence. I read a lot. I watched a lot. I thought a lot.
That’s when I woke up — and remembered reading an essay about white privilege over 20 years ago as an undergraduate sociology student, presumably when I studied gender and racial inequality. Because it had been so long, I didn’t grasp the significance of white privilege returning to vogue in 2020. I didn’t understand why people including Phil were talking about it.
The essay linked above was written by Peggy McIntosh, a white college professor, in 1989. She described “white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets.”
She listed 26 examples of behaviors that were representative of her unearned skin color. (“I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.” “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.” “I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to ‘the person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my race.” “I can choose blemish cover or bandages in ‘flesh’ color and have them more less match my skin.” And so on.)
Recognizing that white privilege is a living system inside every White person, whether or not they know it (and they usually don’t know it), that is one step to achieving clarity.
When I wrote about my history with social justice, I mentioned privilege in a sentence without elaborating its message. That’s one of my steps to achieve clarity. There’s so much out there that I take for granted. Maybe if I can share my feelings, other people can recognize those traits in themselves.
It’s been three weeks since George was killed. Nonviolent acts of protest are occurring around the world to raise awareness of civil injustice, divert funding from bloated police department budgets into community programs, and heighten the importance (especially for white people) that black lives matter. And much more.
If we as a society admit the biases and egotism within ourselves, then we owe it to our children to reform our ways.
Phil wrote there was little clarity. That’s changing. Efforts in reformation are underway, including a list of “use of force” policies from the largest U.S. police departments, a spreadsheet highlighting police brutality videos, and police chiefs across the country testifying to protecting life and restructuring policing.
Many people are resistant to change. I believe that change is part of life; that we can’t have one without the other. I believe that by recognizing our faults, especially because we all have them, then we can begin to make the world a better place.