Opinion: White privilege is real
Free Press Opinion Columnist
Five days before Thanksgiving, Cleveland police responded to a complaint about a man waving a gun as he wandered aimlessly in a city park. A surveillance video released a few days later shows a police car racing through the park right up to the picnic table where he’s sitting. The passenger in the police car fires shots even before the car comes to a stop.
Open carry is legal in Ohio, but police fired before asking questions. As it turns out, the two bullet wounds were deadly. The “man” was a 12-year-old boy, and the gun was a toy Airsoft pistol. The boy, Tamir Rice, was African American.
A month earlier, just before Halloween, police in Santa Rosa, Calif., responded to a call about a man walking through a field with a gun. In this case, they waited 10 seconds before shooting. Six seconds later, seven shots had been fired and the “threat” rendered harmless. This time it was a 13-year-old boy, carrying his pellet gun to his friend’s house. Andy Lopez was Mexican American.
And before all of that, the month of August brought the deaths of 22-year-old John Crawford III and 18-year-old Michael Brown, both of whom were African American. Crawford was shot for holding a BB gun, which was on display at Walmart. Of all of the dead boys and young men I’ve mentioned, Brown was the only one who challenged police. He was executed on the spot for jaywalking, cussing, and suspicion of shoplifting.
My son could have been any of those boys. When he was the age of Tamir and Andy, he was an Airsoft aficionado. He spent hours handling the Airsoft rifles on display at Walmart before making the perfect selection. He and his friends dressed in head-to-toe camo, covering everything but their eyes, which were protected by goggles. My son and his friends then organized into teams and spent hours “hunting” each other in the desert. Towering above their mothers and speaking in their booming, newly developed man voices, the boys could seem pretty threatening to strangers when they sported all that gear.
The difference between Tamir, Andy, John, Michael, and my son is that I have never had to worry about my boy being seriously harmed. No one calls the police to report a white boy wandering through a field with a BB gun. If it looked like my son and his friends were headed toward trouble, concerned citizens would ask what they were doing and yell at them if it seemed appropriate. Sometimes they would complain to parents, but no one ever called the police.
A police force is a product of its community. Law-enforcement agents are only as good as the investment communities are willing to make. When it takes 20 minutes to respond to a call, it’s probably because a police or sheriff department is short-staffed. When people of color are harassed, it’s usually in response to a complaint made by someone in the community. Law enforcement merely reflects the communities it’s paid to represent.
Conservatives insist that none of this is about race, and that everything would be fine if people of color would just pull up their pants and get jobs. They apparently think that racism can be solved simply by a bunch of white guys denying that it’s a problem or by everyone dressing like members of the Young Republicans Club.
These are the people who scoff at the notion of white privilege, yet their words and their actions describe everything white privilege is about much better than I possibly could. They remind me of the time just a generation ago when anyone in Grand Junction who wasn’t white could be killed for being outside after sunset, or when Japanese American families were forced into detention camps near Moab and in eastern Colorado. More recently than all of that was the time closer to my birth when African Americans could not use the same toilets or drinking fountains.
All European Americans benefit from white privilege, and it’s up to us to decide if we’re serious about ending racism.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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