Take It Back

Last night David and I sat in the living room discussing Ferguson, Mo. I was reading articles about what is happening there. Sadness, frustration, and anger fill me.

“This is ridiculous. I can’t believe this is happening in America.”

David is angry as well. “I know! Something needs to be done.”

“How can they get away with saying nothing? Doing nothing?”

“Because they’re the cops and can do whatever they want.”

“And because the person who was killed was black. This would never have happened if he was white.”

And there it is. The truth.

We talked longer. We discussed more of what is going on. We talked more about young black men being gunned down in the streets and nothing being done about it. Eventually James spoke up. “Please don’t say that word anymore.”

Killed is the word. Died. Death. He doesn’t like these words. They hurt his sweet, little soul. They scare him, and rightly so. He’s six years old and white; therefore, I have the privilege of not having to talk to him about these things at this time. I can shield him until he is older.

And there’s the word that I hate. Privilege. White privilege. This birthright that I inherited simply by being born to white parents. This thing I never asked for and don’t want. I want someone to take it back. I don’t deserve it, and I’ve never done anything to earn it.

The “it” being the advantageous treatment I’m automatically given simply for the color of my skin, when what is underneath is no different from my black and brown sisters. The blood, the bone, the muscle, the beating heart are all the same. The hand of the Father crafted us all.

I don’t want to be regarded differently. Treat me the same as you treat them.

Eye me with suspicion. Have security follow me through the store “just in case.” Make me work harder for every opportunity. Pay me even less than you do now for the same work the white man across the hall does. Arrest me more often, and when you do make sure that my sentence is longer. Clothe me in the suspicion of the welfare queen. Judge my nails, my clothes, my phone, my handbag, my music, my car against what you consider the norm or what you think I deserve.

Ask me if you can touch my hair.

Tell me you aren’t racist because you have A friend who is black. To my face, defend vile statements made by celebrities that I tell you are offensive. Co-opt my culture for your own. Put me in my place. Take my civil rights. Make it harder for me to vote and run for office. Refuse to learn or grow or know more about me and the challenges I face.

Make me pray harder when my son leaves the house. Make me worry that he will never return home. Make me teach him to fear the police, but to always act deferential because his life depends on it. Force me to teach my daughter that men will harass her in the streets and that she will be referred to as a bitch, whore, cunt, or animal if she defends herself.

Take back this privilege. Treat me the same as you do my black and brown sisters.

Or better yet…

Treat them the same as you do me.


  1. says

    The thing that is so insidious about bias is all the places we *think* it isn’t at work. And yet it always seems to be. Thank you Jennifer for naming the devil here, and shaming it.

  2. says

    Oh Jennifer, I know. I feel somewhat removed from this being in Canada, but I don’t know if that’s the right way to feel. Does it happen here? Sure. Maybe just to a lesser extent, or maybe we just don’t hear about it as much. Either way it’s not right. I look at what’s happening in Ferguson (knowing that’s just one example of something that happens all the time) and honestly can’t believe this is North America in 2014. It’s unfathomable to me. The pictures of the heavily armed cops baffle me. The ones of protestors with their hands up make me sad. It just shouldn’t be.
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  3. says

    Growing up half brown in an all-white family I sorta got both sides of the coin. I experienced a lot of racism, especially systemic, and especially in a 1/3-brown neighborhood with gangs and crime and such. But I also was usually treated as white, especially when I was with my family, and I was raised up with old-fashioned, white-centric ideals as the norm. It was confusing for me to hear racist stuff from my parents and grandparents about the Mexicans and blacks and the crime and the violence…and then get pulled over 3 times more often than they were because I’m dark, and get constantly asked where I’m from, and get hollered at twice as much on the street. Finally I got to a point (around 18) where I started to really see what was going on with the world and why I was treated differently, and that’s when everything you’ve said in this post clicked for me.

    That’s when I started taking my Armenian heritage truly to heart–identifying mainly as middle-eastern, learning everything I could, participating in forums and groups for historically oppressed groups, becoming an activist for minorities, women, and LGBTQ. I didn’t want my privilege anymore either. In fact, it almost felt fake. I’m in a unique position to understand both sides on this one, but sometimes it’s hard to identify with the white side at all–emotionally hard. I almost feel like a hypocrite, even though I know that’s not fair to myself.

    Thank you for this post. This is a really good conversation to start. Sorry about the super-long comment, I don’t normally do that. *blush*
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  4. says

    I am reminded of the scene in “A Time to Kill” when Jake has the jury imagine the scene that unfurled when that little girl was attacked, and then he said… “now imagine that she’s white” and the jury’s eyes flew open. That’s it. Thank you, J, for saying this. We should all be treated with respect, no matter what color.
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  5. says

    This is one of those times where I am thinking “I wish I had written this” because it’s incredible and right and honest.

    Said with your no nonsense and “take no bullshit” voice. It’s incredible Jen, just incredible.
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  6. says

    I have brown skin and firsthand have experienced racism, some of it from the parent of my BFF in high school. What an asshole that guy was. Even worse was when I happen to be hanging out during college years with some who had black skin. Unbelievable….and we were the GOOD kids- you know, cleaned up, in college, respectful to our elders, not making a scene etc etc. Still, I saw/heard things/received *looks* that blew my mind away. Happens way less now, if at all- I think b/c of the income bracket we are in and also, because my husband looks white but in reality, he is Mexican/Lebanese, speaks Spanish and grew up his Mexican mama and Mexican culture. Racism sucks, no matter which way you look at it and don’t even get me started on the immigration *issues* with the *brown* people. I may f#$%ing lose it.

    Great post!

  7. says

    This is so very powerful. I’m not sure I’m at the point where I would wish for my family to live with that kind of fear and reality, but oh my goodness, do I ever wish for equality of safety and movement and freedom. I want everyone treated the same. With all of my heart.
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  8. says

    Fantastic post, Jennifer. I feel privileged as well and sometimes ashamed that I am probably not grateful enough. Like Robin said – even though it does feel a bit removed here in Canada, it happens just the same.
    We have a big population of First Nations people where I live and I’m embarrassed to say that they are often treated second class as well… thank you for speaking out!
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