Sharing the Last Slice of Privilege
Local poet Marty McConnell writes:
Something I have been wondering: would I give up my whiteness to be Black? The answer is yes, but Walter Scott would still be dead. Would I give up my whiteness to be Black? The answer is yes, but let’s not mistake it for sacrifice or pretend Walter Scott would not still be dead. I spend time in Black spaces, in Black family, amid Black love, I know Black genius and have known Black bodies and know just about nothing of what it is to be Black but I would be it, would surrender my whiteness to be it and Walter Scott would still be dead.
"Would I give up my whiteness to be Black?" she asks. Her answer is yes. Mine is a definitive NO.
This is not to say that I see being Black as a bad thing in any way. It is, however, in this society, a genuine disadvantage, and why would anyone simply give up any advantages he or she has to serve some sort of guilt-ridden non-purpose?
Would I give up my legs to be a paraplegic? No.
Would I give up my mental health to be schizophrenic? No.
Would I give up my American citizenship to be European? Maybe...
The question is broader than the skin color or the rich cultural heritage. The question asked is more complicated.
Would I give up my whiteness to:
• Intentionally have to avoid eye contact with white people because they are systematically taught to be afraid of me?
• Be five times more likely to be imprisoned?
• Be paid less for work and be automatically dismissed from consideration for jobs?
• Have to watch movies that mostly portray me as a criminal?
• Have to be very careful in how I respond to police because it is far more likely that I will be tased or killed for doing absolutely nothing but asserting my rights as a citizen?
As we talk about the very real existence of white privilege in America, this is the barrier to progress—the idea of asking those in privilege to give it up is a no win argument. Why would anyone give up their advantages in a world of seven billion people, all scrambling to be seen and heard and feed their spawn? And, more importantly, what fucking good would come of giving those advantages up?
Equal treatment by the law, equality in wages, housing, education, freedom from the fear of prejudice, equal representation in the arts—there isn't a finite amount of these things that anyone needs to give up in order to make room for anyone else. Advantages are not quantifiable commodities you hand over to someone and make it all right in the process. If I give up my advantages it's not like I can go find a black kid on the Southside and hand them to him in a box.
It is arguable that just as many black men were murdered by police and then framed so that the cops got off scott free in the pre-camera phone days as there are now. The big difference is that now, we get to watch the killings occur on video and see the lies of self defense for exactly what they are. The big difference is that we can see it. Light is being shown in the shadows and we need to adapt our approaches to injustice to reflect that. The Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties was a good solid start but it didn't solve the problems.
Here's the thing. I can be a proud American and not endorse the warmongering bullshit America proliferates. I can be a man and a feminist. And I can be white and not be ashamed of it while being horrified at the systematic racism that continues to roll down the hill of history like the boulder of Sysiphus only to need rolling back up the hill again.
So, the question isn't "How do we get whites to give up their privilege?" The question is "How do we get people with privilege to fucking share it."
My mom taught me about sharing once. Pizza night. One slice of pizza left. I, being an eighth grade boy, immediately reached for it only to be stopped by my mother. "Donald. You don't just take the last piece of pizza. You ask your sister if she wants it first."
"Do you want it?" I asked.
"Yes!" my eight year old sister cried triumphantly and grabbed the whole slice and ate it.
Not quite the lesson in sharing expected. In fact, it's a lousy lesson in sharing. Sharing is taking that last piece of pizza, cutting it in half and sharing it.
Privilege isn't a slice of pizza so sharing it should be easier. Should be, but really isn't.