Trayvon Martin and White Privilege

17-year-old Trayvon Martin (left) and his killer, George Zimmerman (right)

One morning, not too long ago, I woke up with white privilege on my mind. It was the morning after a gathering of mostly white people at a friend’s house during which racist comments had been uttered, and I felt quite unsettled as I tried to sleep on my friend’s couch through the night. One person characterized a black woman we both knew as “talking like a white girl.” Another person told me, very matter-of-factly, that black people did not like dogs.

I had known this particular group of people for a few years, but had not been around them for awhile, and I wondered to myself if they had always said these types of things. Perhaps I simply swept them under the rug in the past. I am pleased to say that my level of social consciousness has risen considerably in recent years, so it is highly possible that I had previously overlooked racially ignorant commentary. However, at this point in my 24-year-old life, I cannot and will not tolerate any forms of racism, even if they are seemingly harmless words from people who probably do not know any better.

Those “seemingly harmless words” are the reason why thoughts of white privilege were swirling around my head long after the gathering had ended. Upon waking up, I attempted to initiate a candid and open discussion about it with my friends. They stared at me as if antennas were growing out of the top of my head… just completely baffled. They had never even heard of white privilege, so they surely had never recognized the role it played in their lives. My friends were college-educated women, but apparently had never stepped foot into an introductory women’s studies class. I tried my best to explain the concept.

White people (and people who appear to be white) take a number of things for granted. Going through life, they do not have to face the myriad assumptions and stereotypes that I encounter each and every day as a black woman. They are allowed to speak proper English and enjoy the company of canines without being judged or perceived as a race traitor. Whites have the luxury of being protected by police instead of being harmed or threatened by their presence. By now, hopefully you have heard about Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black boy who was shot and killed last month in a Sanford, Fla. gated community by an overzealous white and Hispanic neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claims his actions were in self-defense, but Martin was armed with only a bag of Skittles and a can of tea while Zimmerman carried a deadly weapon. Zimmerman, who has a previous criminal record, has yet to be arrested, and we all know if the roles were reversed, Martin would have been arrested in a heartbeat. Apparently, the mere act of being black, wearing a hoodie, and walking to the convenience store is now a criminal act punishable by death.

On a personal note, anytime I spot a cop car anywhere near me, my heart starts beating fast because I know that as soon as they see my brown skin and locked hair, before even opening my mouth, they will have formed certain opinions about me. In my life, it feels like people have tried to attribute almost everything about me to my race. I am fairly loud. I fancy myself a fantastic dancer. I love fried chicken (but watermelon I can do without). Let me be clear: none of the above has anything to do with me being born to black parents, but has everything to do with me being a human with traits that are uniquely me! Race is nothing more than a social construct created to label certain groups of people as inferior.

To walk into a room tabula rasa style, as a totally blank slate… how would it feel? How could it feel? I will never receive that privilege because of the color of my skin. The girls I tried to educate about white privilege on that fateful morning later told others that I had woken up and immediately started going on about “white power.” They saw no distinction between power and privilege. “White power” is a concept that groups such as the Ku Klux Klan rally around, and I do not believe that any of my white friends or acquaintances are involved in any type of hate organizations. Also, I do not believe they think only white people should possess power in our country. However, they cannot change the fact that white has been right in this country for hundreds of years or the fact that our culture is dominated by white standards. If you happen to be white and you happen to be reading this piece of writing, be grateful for the privileges that your skin color affords you. There is absolutely no reason for self-loathing because you did not choose to be white anymore than I chose to be black. Being proud of who you are is important no matter what color you are, but always be aware of your inherent privilege in the world because it is not available to everyone, including me.

Published on ThoughtCatalog.com, March 24, 2012, http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/trayvon-martin-and-white-privilege/

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