From the Perspective of a Privileged Person

Privilege is blindfolding ourselves to the past in the name of progress.

Three people had to die before I could see it. Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice had to die before I could see my privilege.

Only until last year, I saw white privilege as white guilt--a term used by black people and brainwashed, white liberals to coerce reparations out of a generation that had no memory of the Jim Crow era.

I couldn't tell you what it was like being black during that time. No one ever told me, and I wasn't there. I'm sure it was awful, but that's not my fault. It isn't healthy to live in the past with regrets that aren't even mine, so why take on another man's guilt?

Then Mike Brown died.

My first thought wasn't sympathy; I was annoyed that another unarmed, black kid was going to be dominating the news. It was Trayvon all over again. Just as senseless a consequence and likely just as careless a victim.

Then Eric Garner died.

More accurately, then I found out that Eric Garner had died a month earlier. It was unsettling that these events had happened so close together because unarmed black men don't get shot by cops more than once in a few years. Probably.

Then Tamir Rice died.

But he wasn't a black man. He was just a boy. And even though he was brandishing a toy firearm, he was given less than two seconds to surrender. 2014 was a bad year to be black, for sure.

It got worse when I discussed these stories with my black friends. Not only were there more stories I had never heard (just from that year), there was a troubled history between black people and law enforcement. It was so ingrained in black culture that parents taught their kids to assume as non-threatening a posture with cops as possible. So they didn't get shot.

That's when I saw it.

The reason I couldn't see it before was because I was looking for the wrong thing. White privilege is the privilege to not remember.

Most white people think that white privilege refers to some sinister plot to oppress black people because deep down, whites still see blacks as less than human. And since this is largely untrue (probably), white privilege can be dismissed as another liberal conspiracy to pacify their lazy constituency.

But white privilege is subtler than that. It comes from a desire to forget. It exists to purge unflattering mistakes from social consciousness. And it persists because white people have the luxury of not seeing their country's history every time they look in the mirror. White privilege is a convenient myth that allows the sins of the past to remain in the foundations of our society unnoticed except by those it affects.

As ashamed as I am of my previous perspective, I don't blame those who still hold it. No one wants to relive the days when lynchings were committed by the hundreds every year. Some things are so terrible it's best to wash our hands of them and move on. But for the sake of our children and our children's children, we can't allow ourselves to do that.

Consider one of the saddest verses in Scripture: "After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel" (Judges 2:10). This wasn't long after Moses had pleaded with the people in Deuteronomy to remember God and all that he had done for them. What happened? This didn't:
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9)
 The fact that most of my parent's generation don't know anything about pre-Civil Rights atrocities is the reason why white privilege exists today. And unless my generation studies up on Ghanian slave castles or the murder of Emmett Till, white privilege will exist tomorrow. As George Santayana famously said, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

Though it largely went by unnoticed as it does every year, this is the importance of things like Black History Month. It's not a pitiful attempt to pay off a debt to the black community (a debt measured in blood, not charity); it's like an Old Testament festival. It's like one of the appointed times given to the Israelites as a way to remember God. It's not unlike the cup we drink in remembrance of Jesus' sacrifice. We commemorate these things so we don't forget them, not out of guilt or obligation. And if we're to heal our nation and end white privilege, we must do the same thing with the transatlantic slave trade.

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