"Uncovering White Privilege
Recently, I got a ticket in Westminster for parking my car facing the wrong way on a one-way street. I did not even know such a law exists. At the time, I remember thinking how I might feel if I were black. Specifically, would I be wondering whether my race had anything to do with the ticket? Because I am white, the thought that I was singled out because of my race did not even enter my thinking.
As a white person in Carroll County, I experience privileges everyday. I have these privileges simply because of my race. I did not earn them. I did not work for them. And I typically do not think about them. I just accept and enjoy them.
To many Carroll Countians, what I am saying is hard to digest. After all, we have been raised to believe that we live in a society where people get what they deserve. People who work harder and apply themselves are going to be rewarded. Those who slough off and take the “easy road” get their just due as well. But what I am talking about has nothing to do with someone's work ethic or talent.
Let me offer some other examples of unearned white privilege in Carroll:
- I can visit local businesses and see members of my race prominently displayed in photographs, pictures, advertisements, and other visible images.
- Almost anywhere I go in Carroll County, I can be in the company of people of my race.
- I can encounter people, especially women, and they will not change their path to avoid me, clutch their purse tighter, or tense up when I walk by.
- I have more free time because I am not asked to serve on a seemingly endless number of county boards, commissions, community groups, and other bodies so these groups can get the “minority perspective” and appear diverse.
- When I go into a store, I can be sure that I will not be followed or watched carefully because of my race.
- When I go shopping, I can easily buy magazines, greeting cards, dolls, and other products that picture people of my race.
- I can get a job with an affirmative action employer in Carroll County without people assuming that I got that job because of my race.
- My children can go to Carroll County schools and I can be certain they will almost always be taught by teachers who look like them.
- I can do a great job at work or do something out of the ordinary in our community without being called a “credit to my race.”
- I can be pretty certain that if I want so see the person “in charge” at a local establishment, that person will be a member of my race.
- I can drive a brand new Lexus throughout Carroll without people wondering whether the car is mine, whether I can afford it, or whether I purchased it with drug money.
- In spite of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and other white males who commit terrorist acts, I am not going to be profiled by local authorities as a terrorist threat.
- I and other people with my skin color can move into any neighborhood in Carroll without people wondering whether their property values are going to be affected.
- I can let my lawn grow a foot high and let my house fall into disrepair without any of my neighbors or a passerby thinking, even for a split second, that it has anything to do with the color of my skin.
- While having lunch or dinner in some of the County's best restaurants, I can be sure that I will not be mistaken for a coat-check clerk or some other “help” because of my race.
- I can write this column without people attributing what I write to my race.
Let's take this a step further. Say I buy a brand new Jaguar. I spend the whole next day driving it to malls, through neighborhoods, and on the back roads of Carroll County. At the end of the day, I am not going to say to myself, “Gee, I'm glad I am white because if I wasn't, I might have gotten pulled over by the police due to racial profiling.” Similarly, I am not going to think twice about the fact that no one did a “double take” when they looked my way, as if to say, what is he doing in that car.
On a daily basis, I am not aware of how I benefit from the color of my skin. When I shop at a local mall, I do not make a habit of being thankful I am white. Rather, I am oblivious to the fact that I am not trailed by security or made to feel uncomfortable by salespeople who are excessively helpful and refuse to leave me alone.
During one of his well-known routines, black comedian Chris Rock points out, “There's not a white person alive who would change places with me…and I'm rich.” Rock is talking about unearned privileges, and the fact that whites would not want to relinquish them even if it meant becoming rich.
White privilege is a difficult thing to see and discuss, especially in a county that is over 95 percent white. If you woke up tomorrow morning and you were of a different race, how would your life be different? What privileges might you lose or gain? Give it some thought.
My next column will be “Infusing Diversity into the Curriculum.”