I have written about privilege before, but I will do so again. This country is rapidly devolving into a place I cannot be proud of, or maybe the idea that it ever was is a sign of my own privilege. Maybe I am just becoming more informed as to the realities that other Americans have not had the privilege to be ignorant of. But from where I sit, things are looking worse and worse either way.
I am terrified that I live in a country where where the life of a young person is valued less than the fear of a grown man. Not just valued less, but that one person’s life is not justifiable when compared to the fear of the adult. Where one mans right to defend himself against a perceived threat, that is, not an actually threatening situation, but that an adult claims that he felt threatened by a teenager, he has the right to defend himself by any measure he chooses. That man may justify his actions in a court of law, but the right of the kid who was killed by his fear, that right to life is not justified. Our society justifies that which is considered valuable. Namely the right to defend yourself…. if you are white.
Defending yourself is a privilege that is denied to many in this country.
I hear often enough, and from people I otherwise respect, that they cannot be privileged. After all, they don’t have it that great. They struggle, they get screwed over and stepped on. Privilege doesn’t exist if there is someone out there who has it better off than you do. This is a dangerous notion. Instead of recognizing that most everyone gets screwed over at some point, and wishing to level the playing field and have empathy for those who have less, you cling to what you do have, deny that anyone else lacks/needs/deserves anything, and certainly should not get something you want for yourself.
Take the issue of affirmative action: whether or not you feel it is necessary or effective, the argument that it discriminates unfairly against white people is both persistent and inexcusable. Because in order to make this argument is to deny that as a demographic, white people have far greater access to quality educational opportunities than members of other demographics. Affirmative action and demographic-specific scholarships are an attempt to provide additional opportunities to those who lack access to quality education, not take away opportunity from those who already have it.
Or the issue of “insert demographic here” history months. One of the things I hate is hearing people ask why there is no “white history month” or “men’s history month.” To argue that the lack of these months is unfair is to ignore that history is written and taught in a way that recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of those who are white and/or male to a far greater degree than all others.
I have said all that before, so before I run the risk of ranting, lets get back to the topic at hand.
The privilege to defend yourself. The privilege to justify your actions.
This is not about seeing a guilty person punished. In the case that prompted this post, the killer will likely spend a great deal of time in prison. But that is not justice. It cannot be justice if the right to live is treated as equal for both parties. It has not, and generally is not. And that creates the very problem and fear that many of the privileged react to in such deadly ways. The inequality reinforces the idea that black boys and men are intimidating, and that when a white person is intimidated, they have no responsibility to act justly. Viewed through that lens, and helped along by the media, any action that black boys and men may take only justifies others feeling ‘intimidated.’ How many of us, especially as teenagers would react like perfect ghandi-like ambassadors for peace when being treated as if we were worthless and to be feared and looked down on? I know I wouldn’t respond the best. But any misstep, any incident of a teenager acting like a teenager, any occasion of someone reacting badly to being treated badly is grounds for deadly force if someone doesn’t like your skin tone.
This is why it is important to recognize your privilege. The problems facing our country today are often termed black issues, or race issues. Couple that with the idea that the default factory setting for American is white, and you have a great number of people who do not feel that these issues should matter to them. But in truth these are human issues. These are American issues.
Even if you look at it completely selfishly, ie. you want the best life and country for yourself and your family/friends/etc. maintaining ignorance and perpetuating injustice and justified violence does not make the country better. And if you have to view it that way in order to see it as valuable, you probobly won’t agree, or at least wont acknowledge that you are part of the problem. And that is the biggest part of the problem. This is a country where far too many are nonchalant or even defensive of the privilege of some to kill someone else’s sons and daughters, as long as it is not their sons and daughters. This is a failure. The evil isn’t in any one man who kills any one else, it is in our culture that accepts and justifies it. The evil is in the otherwise decent people of this country being the guiltiest of bystanders.
I can reasonably be sure that if I chose to bear children, that their deaths would not be seen as so justified, but this is not a culture which I would like to influence any children at all.