Amy Roberts: Politics and privilege
This weekend I halfheartedly tuned into coverage of the 2020 presidential race. Political white noise while I cleaned the house and paid bills. There were town halls on several major networks, forums and public speaking engagements, and of course, the California Democratic Convention, where 14 candidates took to the stage to explain their platforms.
The themes presented were consistent: Protecting the rights of every possible category of human — from women to gays to immigrants — fair share taxes, environmental protection, education, and somehow make it at least equally as difficult to get a gun as it is to adopt a puppy.
But this year, I’ve heard more and more of these candidates forgo the traditional term ‘minority rights’ and instead use much stronger, and frankly, more meaningful language. Terms like systemic racism, white nationalism and white privilege were used again and again, with examples and policy outlines.
White privilege is a common buzzword in social justice circles. In Park City, we use the broader and less provocative term “social equity.” There are differences in the definitions, but at the end of the day, they both boil down to this: Some of us were born on third base and too many of us assume that means we hit a triple.
When you aren’t the one who is oppressed, it’s difficult to understand that some people weren’t even born in the ballpark, and it’s convenient to assume those who have never stood on third base must be lazy, or haven’t made good decisions, or have otherwise done something to deserve their lot in life. Few of us are willing to admit we are where we are because we happen to be random members of the lucky sperm club.
The past year or so as I’ve tried to become more educated on the topic and aware of injustices, I’ve attempted to check my own privilege. There is an endless list of unearned benefits I receive each day because I am white. They’re so embedded in daily life, they’re seen as expectations, not assets. Everything from the color of a Band-Aid designed to match my skin tone, to predominately seeing people of my race on television and in movies, to being able to assume any interaction I might have with law enforcement won’t result in my funeral.
Such a basic list of assurances; but these promises are not extended to many people of color. And what I’ve realized lately is that white privilege isn’t just about what happens because you’re white, it’s also about what doesn’t.
While shopping at a local store recently, I put some bulkier, heavier items on the cart’s lower shelf. I unloaded the basket for the cashier to ring up, forgetting about those items below. She didn’t see them either and as I walked out of the store pushing my full cart, alarms started to buzz. A few employees looked up, smiled at me, and waved me along. One said not to worry about it, sometimes the alarms go off for no reason. Security did not come over, no one asked to see my receipt. When I went back in to pay for these items the cashier thanked me for being honest.
And while I’ll never know if the reactions would have been the same if I’d been a black man, or Latino woman, or Iranian, or purple, I do know I never had to worry that my intentions might be questioned. I never had a moment of panic that someone might assume I had planned to steal those items. I never once thought I might have to explain this to police or feel any concern if they’d believe me. And that’s exactly what white privilege is — the absence of suspicion, a subconscious and mutual understanding I would get the benefit of the doubt.
Recognizing this privilege doesn’t mean I need to feel shame or guilt, nor does it diminish what I’ve worked hard to achieve. There’s nothing wrong with having white skin, but there is something wrong with refusing to acknowledge it comes with benefits you did not earn, and many others aren’t privy to. It means we no longer should accept the privilege of being unaware of our privilege.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis.
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