The Day I Checked My White Privilege at the Door
They say there are three things we all know to be true. When asked for them in a list, no rx they typically go in the order of something funny, visit web something honest, adiposity and something feared. Let me skip to the second thing I know to be true: I am a white, 22-year-old female living in the great state of Georgia (if great means unbearable humidity, mosquitos, and a never ending supply of sweet tea). I would say I come from humble beginnings. We never bought excessive things, yet we also had just what we needed at exactly the right time. I come from a home of love, honesty, and openness. I also, however, come from a family with grandparents that make snide comments about people of color or other ethnicities. Some would say that they were born in a different generation; it was a different time you see. A time when people of color had to drink water from a separate fountain or sit in the back of the bus simply for the color of their skin. A time when humanity didn’t really feel like humanity in America.
If there be one thing my mother taught me growing up, it is to love. Love hard, passionately, and deeply. For family, significant others, and friends. Growing up with friends of different ethnic backgrounds didn’t give me an automatic free pass to say I wasn’t racist, and that’s where people get things wrong today. PSA my fellow white Americans: you are not owed anything by your friends of different color. They are not your crutch nor your free pass into the land of antiracism.
The day I checked my white privilege at the door was the day I moved cities for college. I never saw a difference between my friends and I. However, when I moved to Savannah for university, I realized my differences. I attended Armstrong State University, a school where there were about twice as many African Americans as the high school I went to. The spring of my freshman year I took a general criminal justice class called Ethical Theories and Moral Issues. This class was absolutely incredible, let me tell you. It was around then that I realized what my ethnic friends had been trying to tell me all along. I had never had to worry about being racially profiled or whether I would make it back safely to my family. Despite being best friends with these people, I had no clue what they went through on a daily basis. White privilege, check.
Growing up I had friends of many different backgrounds. My best friends included multiple African Americans, one American Samoan, one Indian, and multiple people of Hispanic origins. I dare not say I fit in better with these friends, but I did. It was as though they knew how to love better, cherish what they had around them, and see me for me (a feisty short girl who made jokes about herself before anyone else could.) I love these people. They are my people. They see the world differently and choose to love others rather than hate.
Recently I was guilty of binge watching Dear White People on Netflix. Beforehand, I texted my two best friends who are African American. I wanted to make sure that before I started watching this show, that it was something that they believed to be true. I wanted to know if this show had things I needed to hear so that I could listen and watch more intently. One thing that stuck out to me more vividly than most was when Rashid, a character from Kenya, made comments about Americans. He said,
“You do realize that all we do is complain about things. It is as though Americans would have no identity, if not for their near-constant outrage. I know so much about what you don’t like. What do you all like?”
Small break for a round of applause for Rashid. You are entirely right. I believe that Americans have begun to feel so entitled to everything, we certainly know what we don’t like, but we’re not entirely sure what we actually like anymore. It’s as though we love arguing more than we love people.
Since the election, there have been entirely too many videos surfacing of white Americans feeling bold enough to tell people of other ethnic backgrounds to go back to where they came from, even though most if not all of them, have never stepped foot in another country. I’m not sure where humanity went, but I think it has been missing for quite some time. One thing that baffles me are the videos where those who may be speaking another language are being screamed at for doing so. Listen up America, almost every other country on the earth is at least bilingual. I work in retail and my heart breaks every time I see panic run across a Hispanic woman’s face when she cannot understand me. I wish nothing more than to be able to communicate to others.
You see, life is scary. We only get one of them. One chance to love and be loved. When the day comes that I am no longer breathing, I want only to leave behind a legacy that says that I loved everyone to the best of my abilities, that I was kind when there was no kindness shown in return, and that I saw no difference between human beings and things, like a skin color, that they cannot change.
Written by Kensey Wilkey
Instagram and Twitter: @kenseywilkey