Privilege. Privi-lege. Private law. One law for me, another for thee.
So I’ve been following the story of Trayvon Martin. It’s a story that evokes a lot of emotions (outraged disbelief among them – like the article in the local paper where Zimmerman’s father categorically denied that his son followed and shot this young man, saying flat out “it’s lies.” What, does he think the kid tripped and fell on Zimmerman’s bullets??), but the one that’s coming through the strongest, and that I’m the least proud of, is relief. Relief that when the ricebaby enters the world… she’s going to be white.
Not that being female in this world is a cakewalk. But I can walk around my neighborhood at night, moving slowly and staring off into the distance, and my neighbors will only assume I’ve got a lot on my mind or perhaps I’m daydreaming – not that I’m on drugs or looking for trouble. I can rummage through my pockets or bags, and no one jumps to the conclusion that I’m looking for a weapon. Wearing a hoodie only makes me look cute, not menacing. If I get angry with a cop, get up in his face yelling, he might add some extra charges to a ticket… but I know damn well I’m not going to get dragged from my car, beaten, or shot. And if, by some tragic accident, someone does hurt or kill me, I know and my family knows that the person responsible will be brought to justice.
That’s privilege. That’s white privilege. And it’s privilege my daughter will share.
My coworker brought his infant son in to the office the other day. When I looked at that adorable child, all I could think was – what must it feel like to be a parent, to hold a beautiful black baby boy in your arms and then read about Trayvon in the paper, and wonder if that could be your son in 15, 16, 17 years? To know that when your children reach a certain age, you’ll have to have a talk with them – teach them how to keep their head down, to present a non-threatening image, to not talk back and eat shit with a smile – all in the hopes that no one will ever convince themselves they have an excuse to shoot and kill your baby.
I can imagine, but I’m not going to know what that feels like. And I’m glad. I don’t think any parent should ever have to know what that feels like.
When we talk about privilege, there’s a tendency to act as if it’s a bad thing. It’s not. Privilege is good. At least, the lege part of it is. The law that governs me and those who look like me, the one that lets me walk down the street and not worry about someone feeling threatened enough by my very presence to murder me… it’s a good one. It’s one that ought to apply to everyone. So the problem lies with the privi part.
Why is this private law private? What can we do to make it apply to everyone? I don’t know… but I think prosecuting Trayvon’s murderer is a good place to start. I think the message needs to be sent that even with Florida’s “if I feel threatened by you I can shoot you” law in place, it’s not ok to decide someone is “threatening” just because he’s young, and black, and male, and out after dark. The message needs to be sent that our children – all of our children – are free to walk down the street without fear of being gunned down.