Most of the day, I gritted my teeth. My jaws were clenched from the moment I heard there was a verdict. Somehow, I just knew this wouldn’t end well. Not that it should be a surprise. I mean, I never expected justice. Hoped for it, yes, but I was never optimistic.
Why the pessimism? I owe that strictly to my awareness of my glaring white privilege.
Privilege never leaves my side. Every time one of my sons walks out my door, I am aware of how lucky I am to be born lacking a great deal of melanin. That’s not a choice I made. It certainly doesn’t make me superior. It’s just dumb luck. Regardless, I can say goodbye to my sons without worrying that some cop will harass them needlessly. I don’t worry they’ll be shot in the street, their bodies left for the world to ogle. For even if harm comes to one of my sons, I can be assured that justice will be served. You see, they’re white, too. Mind you, I don’t feel guilt for the color of my skin, but I know, as do my sons, that random science ensured them a life sans racial prejudice.
Of course, I’ve been aware of my white privilege ever since I read Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This speech, as well as who Dr. King is, was never taught to me in school. We never celebrated MLK Day. My teachers never so much as whispered the name of this glorious gift to humanity. Imagine my surprise when I was older and found out what went on during the Civil Rights Movement.
When I read King’s speech, I cried. His words were so powerful, so touching. The hope he carried for humanity was so great, so fair, and so inclusive. Dr. King excluded no one from his Dream. He wished for us all to be “brothers and sisters”. This is something the small-minded, patriarchal, white men who led my parochial school wished I would never know, I’m sure. I was just a simple girl who, without doubt, they expected would marry another white patriarchal male, and carry out my wifely duties, letting my husband retain power. Never did they think someone like me would break the cycle, and call their system of white privilege and power into question. Now, I’m no more than a threat to them. I am a “sorry excuse for a white woman,” as I was told today.
That’s fine. If standing up for justice and equality throws me outside the realm of what they consider “good,” I’ll take it. I’ll stand right over here doing what I know in my heart is right. I’ll let the tears flow as I empathize with the pain of so many who have had to fight for every ounce of freedom they have. I will walk beside them hand in hand, just as Dr. King would have wanted. In fact, thinking back on his speech today, I’m saddened. This peaceful man wanted for us to sit at the table together as equals. He never asked to be lifted into superiority. Just equal.
Remembering back to the first time I read the “Dream” speech, no one had to tell me I was privileged. The language of Dr. King spelled that out for me.
You see, the words flooded my mind with visions of suffering and hope for a better tomorrow. I knew this was not something I had ever experienced. I never had to march to be able to sit in a restaurant along with people of other ethnicities. No one forced me into the back of a bus. My relatives were never lynched. Without being told, I knew there was a system built to protect me, even as a woman, that didn’t include people of color. This bothers me. It bothers me because not just a farm, or a city, or even a state was built on the backs of people of color—our entire country was built on the backs of slaves, and expanded from lands stolen from Native people. Nothing in this country belongs to the WASPs who continue to hold the most positions of power, and who continue to perpetuate hate. There was no seat at the table for people of color. Dr. King asked us to build a new table to include everyone, but yet in 2014, his Dream is still not realized.
We continue to live in a society where one white man can be the judge, jury, and executioner for a young man whose only crime was stealing a cigar. It may as well be 1814.
All I can do tonight is hang my head in shame at the hatred and injustice. I, too, wish for the day when I can rejoice with people I consider my brothers and sisters—who biologically are my brothers and sisters. In case you didn’t know, we all come from one shared ancestor. We are all one people by design. The only thing separating us is greed and hatred.
Tonight, I pray for peace. The family of Michael Brown has asked us all to help them rally to legislate that all police officers wear body cameras so tragedies like this might be avoided. The ACLU and SPLC are calling for peace. Let’s do our part. Join hands. March On. Overcome.
(Image source: http://www.koco.com/national/at-ferguson-church-faith-calms-fears/29894368)