I remember keenly the first time I really, deeply, felt the full force of the privilege that US culture grants me due to the color of my skin.
It was 2008. For a few years previously I had been reinvesting with feminism and intersectionality and was active with fellow #socialjusticewarriors on Twitter. For the first time in my life I was beginning to make peace with the fact that as a white person I benefit from implicit racism and white privilege every single day.
And so it was that I was driving my blonde moppet of a son to preschool one day using one of the many HOV roads in our area. Since he was old enough to face forward, I had been teaching my son to wave whenever there was a police officer enforcing the occupancy restrictions, since he was a less obvious passenger than someone sitting in the front seat. In our former neighborhood, several of the cops who did this duty got to recognize my car and would preemptively wave us along and wave back to him. We had just moved and so we were breaking in the system with a new set of officers.
So I say to the blonde moppet, “Wave at the nice police officer, sweetie.”
And it hits me – the amazing, audacious privilege of being able to teach my child(ren) that police officers and authority generally are there to help and protect them. I can teach my kids to look for someone in uniform if they get separated from me out in public or if they otherwise need help because no one looks at those blonde heads with their pink cheeks and the golden glow of their skin and thinks “Those kids are up to something.”
I can say, “Wave to the nice police officer” and not fear that in 10 years that same officer will point a gun at my son’s head and beat him near to death because the color of his skin makes him a suspect.
“The Talk” I have with my son will be about safer sex and respecting other people’s boundaries, not how to survive a confrontation with public servants.
When my son comes home after curfew in a few years, my first thoughts won’t be whether he was shot by a vigilante who thought he was in the wrong neighborhood.
That, my friends, should not be a privilege.
Like much of the US, probably the world, I have been watching the events in Ferguson, MO unfold with a mix of profound sorrow and abject horror. It is hard for me to even find the words to discuss how ashamed I am of the power structure of this country, of how difficult it is to even talk about without feeling like nothing I can possibly say from the cozy comfort of my middle-class-white existence could possibly sound like anything other than a pat on the head.
But we have to care.
For all of our children.
Featured Image by Flickr user Shawn Semmler.