When you’re reading about how to be a good writer, a lot of the good advice that I’ve heard and tried to take on is the idea that when I’m writing, I’m writing to people who are like me. What I mean by that is that I’m writing to the perspective that I know and understand. I’m writing, largely to women or to people who live in small towns or to people who grew up in a very religious culture or to people who are interested in feminism and shopping and self-care and the value of humanity. You don’t have to fit all of those categories to belong here. You don’t even have to fit into any of them to belong here. Everyone is welcome if everyone is willing to understand that their point of view might not always be reflected in my words. Because they’re my words.
I want to talk to you about a few things that seem to get people really upset and I’m trying to approach this in the most genuine and non-snarky way possible, which is against my nature, because I want your heart to hear what my heart is saying. Vulnerability begets vulnerability—this is my prayer here.
I want to talk to you about the subject of #blacklivesmatter and the subject of white privilege. And I do feel a little nervous to jump into these waters and talk about this because I’m scared that you’ll ask me questions for which I don’t have brilliant answers. But I can’t sit by and just let it all play out because I have fear of having to Google something before I answer your question. I have black friends who are scared to drive their cars because of what might happen during a routine traffic stop or what might happen when their kids leave for school or their husbands head off to work and I’M scared? Please. No. I have nothing to be afraid of. I’m so safe it makes me sick. I have something to say and I hope you hear me with an open heart. I have to speak up. I have to speak to you—to you, people like me.
“When people say ‘black lives matter’ that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter… all lives matter. But right now, the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents. This isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives. This is recognizing that there is a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens. And we should care about that. We can’t dismiss it. We can’t dismiss it.” –President Obama
When I say #blacklivesmatter—and I say it a lot, because I believe it, some people shout, “NO! All lives matter!” And that may be true—no, it IS true! But if it was really something that you felt in your heart, I think we should be fighting for the value of life instead of fighting about semantics. But things get twisted and suddenly the topic of conversation has been derailed into territory where there’s no solution. No one’s even talking about the actual problem anymore, they just want the other person to say “you’re right”. And especially when we’re having these conversations online—they turn into ugly fights with no resolution. Are we looking for a resolution or are we just looking to argue? Because, I mean, if we’re just looking to argue I get it. There’s a lot to feel angry about and when you’re yelling at strangers on the internet, you feel pretty righteous. It feels, for a minute, like you’re a part of the solution! You’re fighting for something. But that’s not really true. You know it’s not and I know it’s not. And, yeah, I get regretfully sucked into it on a regular basis.
And now, if you’re a person like me at all, you’ve got the issue of privilege to deal with, too. This is complicated territory. I never said it was easy. Thanks for coming along with me on this journey, by the way, I really do appreciate it.
A lot of times when people start talking about “privilege”, you tense up and you feel like you’re being attacked. And I get it because a lot of the time, someone telling you that you have privilege is not really delivered in a kind manner. But I’m not saying this in a you-versus-me kind of way. I can’t do that because I’ve got so much privilege. Hear me—I am drowning in privilege over here!
We can define privilege as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.
Another thing that’s very important to note is that just because you have privilege doesn’t mean that you don’t struggle. No one is trying to take away the hardships and hurdles that you have to overcome every single day. I honor those things in you—I won’t dismiss them. Some of you are broke and some of you experience chronic pain and disease. Some of you are depressed and some of you have experienced crushing loss and some of you know about all of that all at once and some of you have even more. But you still have certain privileges, too. It’s not good or bad it’s just what it is. “I am large, I contain multitudes.” –Walt Witman.
Here’s what I’m talking about when I’m talking about my privilege: I’m a relatively young, educated, white, heterosexual, cis woman living in the middle of the Kansas plains. What that means is that in my life I’ve never received any kind of discrimination based on my race or my sexual orientation. What that means, also, is that I can’t possibly imagine what it is like to be on the receiving end of it. Another thing about privilege is that there are probably a lot of other things that I’m benefiting from that I can’t even recognize right now.
Simply put, being a woman in America is hard. Being a black woman in America is harder. It just is. There just are certain struggles that she will deal with that I will not and it doesn’t help either of us to pretend like it’s not true.
I think it’s important to learn what privilege is because it’s the first step in moving forward—for those of us who want to move forward and I know that a lot of us do. I think it’s also important to note that you don’t have to apologize for the privilege that you have. Due to the very nature of what privilege is, there’s no way you could shed it even if you wanted to. It’s nothing that you asked for and it’s nothing that you can give away. That being said, though, you can use it. Acknowledging your privilege is a little like waking up one day and realizing that you have legs when some other people around you do not. You can’t take them off and give them to someone else, it doesn’t work that way. It’s non-transferable. You can use it for good, you can use it for bad, or you can let it go to waste entirely—the choice is yours.
How can we use our privilege for good? Sometimes the oppressed or disenfranchised aren’t allowed to use their voices to say the things they need to say–the things that we need them to say because we can’t know what it’s like unless we hear them. We can shush those around us who refuse to listen. And we can sit down and listen, ourselves. If we don’t listen, we won’t get anywhere.
At times like these when the tensions are so high, try not to reach out to your black friends to explain it to you. Or if you absolutely must, understand if they don’t want to talk about it. It can be hard to talk about racial stuff like this–especially to a white person. I’m not saying that no black person will want to talk to you about it–I’m just asking you to use discretion. There’s a whole world wide web out there for you. Seek out articles, books, podcasts, interviews, social media personalities. Educate yourself. It’s not the job of the oppressed to educate the privileged.
If you’re in a situation where your voice can be heard—use it responsibly. Think before you speak. Ask yourself if someone else has ever said it better and if they have, point to that person. If you feel like you have something unique to add to the conversation without making yourself the center of it—say it. But know that a person of privilege—that is you and that is still very much me—doesn’t get to tell an oppressed people how they are allowed to react to the oppression that they’re facing. Because in the same way that you and I did not ask for the societal benefits that come along with our skin color or our sexual orientation or where we were born—neither did the people who have things differently. And there are certain things that we simply can not relate to one another on. And that’s okay—we don’t have to. If you ask me, and you did—because you made it this far, it’s best that we don’t. Diversity makes the world go ‘round. We’re not the same. We’re really not! And that’s great. There are certain things that apply to us all, sure. But we have different perspectives and stories and lives that we’ve lived.
We can’t get through the problem that we’re facing by just hopping over the things that are holding us back. We can’t pretend that race doesn’t exist. It’s not divisive to recognize that race exists and that we all have different perspectives. We have to go through it and it’s going to get ugly—my guess is that it may even get uglier than it has been although I pray that’s not true. But we have to go through it to get through it and I know we will get through it. Don’t get shortsighted by what’s in front of you right now. Think to the future and what it could be. Hold on, do your best, clean up your side of the street.
If you’re interested in learning more about these subjects, here are a few articles, books, podcasts, etc. that I have found helpful. And let’s keep the conversation going.
Privilege 101: A Quick and Dirty Guide (Everyday Feminism)
I, Racist (a sermon posted to the Huffington Post blog)
What White America Fails to See (The New York Times)
This is What White People Can Do To Support #blacklivesmatter (The Washington Post)
What You Can Do Right Now About Police Brutality (Ravishly)
Episode 34 Black and White: Racism in America (Liturgist Podcast)
Invisible Man (by Ralph Ellison)
…And so much more, if there’s anything that you want to share, link to it in the comments section.