I have thought a lot about white privilege. Black lives matter. Absolutely, they do. Every life matters. Throughout the ages and in many countries still, there is racism, extorsion, prejudice and slavery. We should have come much farther than we have.
As a woman, I understand something about being marginalized and not as respected as a man. I think all women can relate to this to some extent. I still get my husband to make some phone calls because he is more respected and listened to than a woman. It is sad but true. And though this is in no way close to what my black friends have lived through, at least I can begin to imagine. I know that if my son were black I would be uneasy the way the world is today.
One friend in his fifties, a retired high-ranking military officer who is well respected by all who know him still drives home at night with trepidation. He has been stopped and questioned, driving in his nice car, solely for the reason that his skin was black. My husband does not have that fear. I do not have that fear. Life is not fair.
I think of health privilege also. I am in a social media group of arthritis sufferers. They tell heart-breaking stories of being unable to do the things they used to, or to even leave their house because of pain. Family members and co-workers who have no concept of their pain roll their eyes or cajole or leave them out of social activities. If you do not have chronic, debilitating pain, then you are health privileged. You are lucky not to have to navigate the depressing effects and the limitations of pain. Should you feel guilty about this? No, but it is a good thing to become aware of so that you can show compassion to those who do suffer it.
We have a special needs daughter and just about every decision we make in life is made with her in mind. There are many things we are unable to do, or have to be so modified that we do without. She is sweet and loving and so-loved back. We will always have her living with us and there will be no empty nest. Her older siblings have pledged lovingly to care for her after we are gone. Those without special needs children have no idea how much easier it is for them, they have no concept of the worries we carry. I have even heard someone say about my daughter that she should not have been allowed to be born because she costs the system. How cruel. I could be angry at such people, but where would that get me? Ranting and being ugly back are both unproductive and indeed can do more harm. No, I will resist that.
The struggles of overweight people are not understood by slender people. Though I am not morbidly obese my heart goes out to the struggles of those with so much weight affecting their health and their lives. One might say “well, you can do something about your weight…” but perhaps not. Genetics can make it nearly impossible to lose weight, or very difficult at best. Those of us who don’t get ugly faces made at them because of size, who have no worries about the width of airplane seats or movie theater seats…well, we are size privileged.
My point is not to decrease the true struggles and unfairness toward our black brothers and sisters; rather, to increase awareness by finding a place where you have experienced some type of disadvantage. Put yourself in another’s shoes. My friend’s stories help me to understand.
I think very few are born incredibly privileged, and those who are have their own set of problems. If we acknowledge that many people have problems that we take for granted not having, then we begin to feel compassion. We can work with our own gifts and abilities to change prejudice. Perhaps each of us can realize the privileges we do have, and try to relate to those who do not have them. We can work peacefully together.
My friend Marilyn grew up in the civil rights era and two of her friends, both black, knew other greats in the movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr. One published a book recently about racism in America, suggesting that all people are capable of racism. He emphasized the importance of working together to make the world better. The other friend continued throughout his life to help the underprivileged, especially young black men. It bothered them terribly, white privilege, but they had friends of all skin colors and gender. They were eloquent, kind men. Both passed away this year in their 80s. Their lives mattered and they did small and great things while they were on this earth to make a difference. I was so blessed to get to know them and be inspired by them. I will never forget them.
Both of these men knew that violence is no answer. Instead of throwing a rock, hands can reach out to help someone instead. Words can be used to reach understanding rather than to threaten. I know it is idealistic. But most things that are true are idealistic.
Clearly, it is not by harshness or by severity, or by overbearing methods, that social evils are removed. It is by education rather than by formal commands, by persuasion rather than by threats. This is the way to deal with people in general.Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 AD, Letter 22, 5