Every once in a while, the lid on my box slips and I remember I’m not really living in post-racial America. I try to keep that lid tightly clamped down, because otherwise I might find it difficult to function. I don’t want to think about 17-year-0ld boys going out to buy a pack of Skittles and being murdered on the way home. I don’t want to remember that justifiable fear is a black kid coming home from the 7-11 with some candy, and not a white man with a gun.
Some years ago a white man tried to have me arrested because he said I was “breaking into cars.” I was on my way home from work and was carrying a briefcase. Lucky for me the cop was black.
It’s not uncommon for people of color to be seen as criminals (or as a “suspect,” as George Zimmerman referred to Trayvon Martin). But although sometimes mistaken identity is just annoying, it can just as easily be life-threatening.
Then you find out what privilege really means.
Privilege means that you get to go home after shooting a black kid. Privilege means that you didn’t get thrown down or made to lie face down while the cops disarmed you. Privilege means that when you are finally charged, people will send hundreds of thousands of dollars to help you out. Privilege means that people (white people) will say you were charged just because otherwise black people would riot in the streets, as if there is no good reason to riot or as if white people always do things to please black people.
Privilege means plenty of white people will speak on your behalf. Privilege means that white people who have the job of finding out the truth will ignore the obvious, and will throw the weight of their privilege behind their opinion that you are a truthful sort of guy. Privilege means other voices will be silenced or ridiculed or discounted or all three.
Privilege means what it feels like to lose one of your best friends in a violent act isn’t considered. Privilege means that nothing could ever be so bad that white people couldn’t make it worse. Privilege is when you aren’t allowed to grieve and cry and rage because your son has been murdered, but instead you call for peace in your community. Privilege is when you must mute your call for justice because justice has never been your right. Privilege is when people without humanity refuse to see your own.
Privilege is a world in which calling a white person a “cracker” is the new racism. And it means that a 17-year-old deserved to be shot to death. Privilege means that because black people are just “playing the race card,” white people should win the game.
Privilege means defying all rationality when you look at the photographic evidence. Privilege means blood defies gravity and does not drip downwards. Privilege means that although somebody else died at your hands, the main concern is that your life is not ruined.
Privilege means that some lives are worth more than others. And privilege means that every idiot who quotes me the dictionary definition of racism (“The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others”) in defense of privilege never for one moment stopped to think that is exactly what I said.