Unknown Privilege

Until recently, I didn’t fully understand the privileges I was both born with and provided with, due to my upbringing. Being white—and male—I should’ve had clarity about my blessings. But considering the advantages came with me out of the birth canal or surrounded me since I was a toddler, I took them for granted. Looking in the mirror, I was spoiled, entitled, and self-absorbed. Worse, I was apathetic to the plight of others. Others with less fortunate upbringings and others discriminated against simply due to having two X chromosomes or having more melanin in their skin.

No. No it doesn’t, Bitmoji. Kick a man when they’re down much?

While I hate to agree with my stupid Bitmoji, he’s right. It makes me sad, and a little ashamed, knowing how…narcissistic I was.

I always thought narcissism was a character trait associated with Donald Trump, sociopaths, and people that I didn’t hold anything in common with. But apparently, we’re more alike than I previously noted.

Agreed. Risky, considering roughly half the population voted for him. What can I say, Bitmoji? I call them as I see them.

Moving on from any other political opinions, the fact is that I was too self-centered. When you’re young and immature, I don’t think it’s an uncommon flaw to think the world revolves around you. When you don’t have the advantage of life’s experiences, taking out the trash becomes a “why me” scenario because it interferes with watching TV or playing video games. And being asked to take a shower or clean up seems like insurmountably unfair tasks that should be relegated to others, not ourselves. But when you’re an adult, at some point, we grow up and realize we live in a world with other people. That, like redwoods, we’re all connected.

These trees have shallow root systems that extend over one hundred feet from the base, intertwining with the roots of other redwoods. This increases their stability during strong winds and floods.

California Department of Parks and Recreation

I’m not sure when I fully appreciated that we are all indeed intertwined. But it was certainly well into my 40’s. I’m a late bloomer, in that regard. Insecurities and depression tend to do that, keeping you stuck in the mud of thinking the universe is conspiring against you.

And I did I fine job of blaming everyone but myself for the situation I found myself in. “It wasn’t my fault my marriage failed, it was my ex’s.” Or “It’s not fair my best friend got a promotion. Why didn’t I get one?” And on and on.

Getting out of that mindset required lots of therapy, soul-searching, meditation, journaling, yoga, and other mindfulness techniques. And time. Lots and lots of time. Even so, I still didn’t fully comprehend the privilege my race, gender, social status, and economic class provided. That education came when I married a wonderful black women with two young children, who possess wisdom beyond their years.

There have been so many moments of enlightenment. The process is ongoing, really. Here are but a few of those instances, helping to open my eyes:

  • When I first met my future-wife, I repeatedly referred to her son as “boy.” My intent was innocent, but it was also exceeding naive. Why did I have to be repeatedly corrected by his mother that the use of that word was historically problematic, with bigoted connotations? Why? Because at best, I was uneducated, and at worst, I didn’t take the time to care.
  • My nine-year-old son described his deep fear of police. We were together in a car and just passing by a cop standing on the street brought him anxiety and stress that was palpable. He described the unjust shooting that black people suffered at the hands of law enforcement. At that moment I was profoundly sad, witnessing what this young boy experienced. It also made me feel guilty, realizing how oblivious I was to what it felt like to him—and to all black people—growing up in a racist society.

An aside, related to the relationship with my son: Hopefully he won’t read this. And if he does, hopefully the use of “son,” rather than “stepson,” doesn’t upset him. He’s still not comfortable with “son,” as it reminds him of the pain he feels missing his biological dad. Knowing that also makes me kinda sad. Not for me or our relationship, because we’re good; we love each other. But I feel bad for him, knowing the pain he’s going through as a result of missing his father.

  • My daughter (she’s totally cool with that moniker, btw😊) came home from school upset. Another kid called her ugly because her skin was so dark. For a time, she wished that she was white. She had trouble appreciating how beautiful she truly is. Although a lot of us have moments of being self-conscious, myself included, she just wasn’t comfortable in her own skin. Literally.
  • When we look for new opportunities to travel, my wife is always cognizant of the racial tolerance and whether it’s “brown-friendly.” This factor in the decision making process is something entirely new to me, something I never had to consider. It’s a profound reminder that racism isn’t just thriving in the U.S., it exists in all parts of the world. This also makes me sad, but t not just for black people, for the state of humanity. In 2022, I would’ve thought we’d be more evolved by now.
  • Two years ago, my soon-to-be father-in-law described a police harassment situation, where he was stopped and questioned for no other reason than the color of his skin. I wondered how many times this must’ve happened to him over the course of his 70-plus years.
  • My 26-year-old daughter confessed that when she first met me, she was suspicious because I’m white. Then she further elucidated that she’s suspicious of all white people, until they prove otherwise. At first, I thought my daughter’s beliefs were racist, but then after a bit of reflection, I understood. Given all the atrocities perpetrated against black people, her reserved judgment is perfectly logical.

“Black people can’t be racist. Prejudiced, certainly. But not racist. Racism requires power. And black people don’t have power. White people do.”

—My daughter

Another aside: When my daughter argued this point, I didn’t agree. I thought it was semantics and that I’ve met plenty of racist black people. In fact, when Nikki and I are in public I “feel” more animosity from black people, judging our interracial relationship. On the whole, it’s not that systemic, but the side-eye does seems more prevalent from black people, compared to whites. (Maybe white people are just hiding their disapproval a little better? Who knows…🤷‍♂️) The point is, I always thought black people had the capacity for racism. But there is a line-of-thought that requires racism to emanate from people in power. Discussing with my daughter, I still wasn’t convinced. But considering how whites have historically treated people of color, I yielded to her position. Due to the topic itself and not having experienced discrimination on anywhere near the level she has, who am I to argue?

One thing I’m not, Bitmoji, is a stupid cartoon. Ever look in the mirror, my friend?

Moving on. More examples of my ongoing education:

  • I know I’ve already touched on this a bit, but occasionally when my wife and I are together in public, we feel the weight of stares and scorn. Honestly, I don’t feel it occurs that often. But even when it doesn’t, the paranoia can be present: “Are they staring? Did you notice that look? Did he/she say that with a judgy attitude?”
  • Everyday moments of discrimination, revealing its constant presence. Like when I’m pulled over for a traffic violation and get off with just a warning, my wife feels it may be white privilege-related. Or when I get served in line a bit quicker than she does. Or when my wife wouldn’t dare to open up a box at Home Depot to see if it’s the correct part we need, for fear of a confrontation. Whether these scenarios are actually racist or not misses the point. It’s that they could be racist and that the problem is so pervasive that it factors into just about everything.
  • The realization that racism does factor into just about everything and the way my wife handles this knowledge, with an “acceptance” that it’s just part of society, and of life. The word “acceptance” does not imply my wife tolerates it or approves of it. It simply means that she is fully aware of racism following her everywhere, refusing to be ignored.
  • My wife’s “acceptance” that as a brown-skinned person, she’s hated by a not-insignificant percentage of the population. For me, this is a shake-my-head moment of shame and disgust at the state of the world. But it’s also a source of admiration. Admiration for my wife’s quiet courage and strength, meandering through this difficult world. For me, I feel like if I were in her position, I’d hold onto so much anger for the injustice directed my way. I don’t know how she does it, maintaining her quiet dignity and perseverance.
  • I always thought the Democratic platform was more aligned with social equity and tolerance; I still do. But hearing my wife’s father and brother discuss the presidential election was eye-opening: They didn’t expect much to change, regardless of who held the Oval Office.

There are so many more examples. And ones I’ve witnessed prior to being in my current relationship. Police shootings, white supremacist rallies, and the N-word have been around for quite some time, and sadly, I don’t feel as if it’s going away any time soon.

So where do we go from here? I wish I had all the answers, but I don’t. It’s a complex problem, with a long history of ignorance passed down from generation to generation. Until that cycle is broken, racism will still exist. Until mothers and fathers stop teaching their children that flying the Confederate flag is ok, but that kneeling for the national anthem isn’t. Until white people stop arguing that it’s not just Black Lives Matter, it’s All Lives Matter. Until we solve the issues of poverty, crime, and lack of opportunity. Until all of that—and so much more—ceases, we’ll be talking about this issue 50 years down the road.

Knowing that my children will likely face repeated discrimination and cruelty is a bitter pill. But I need to look in the mirror and swallow that pill, accepting my responsibility for situation. I can’t correct all global injustices, but I can do my own part. I can—and must—be a positive influence on those around me. And maybe that’s a good place to start.

Author’s note: Yes, I know I started this piece describing my lack of awareness regarding racial and gender privilege. But the racial issue was a mouthful by itself, wasn’t it, Dear Reader? I’ll have to reserve the deficiencies of acknowledging my gender privilege for a later date. Agreed?

2 responses to “Unknown Privilege”

  1. What a great piece my dear! Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your perspective. I love you so much!

  2. […] tried to process this with my wife. As a white man married to a black woman, I was ashamed. I know I’ve previously blogged about the racist state of affairs in America. But my eyes are constantly being opened wider, seeing up-close, daily evidence of […]

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