On White Privilege and Taking Sides

Tutu“It’s like someone getting killed during a funeral service.” – Scott Woods

I do not want to hide behind whiteness or succumb to numbness. So I am going to tell you a story — a story of white privilege. My own.

“Castile is at least the 506th person shot and killed by police so far in 2016, according to a Washington Post database that tracks such shootings.” :: read more  

These are people’s LIVES. Not hashtags, not statistics. LIVES. The insanity of sanctioned racism and murder has got to stop. This would never have gone down this way if he, Philando Castile, his girlfriend (who was HANDCUFFED while police “sorted things out” — this after she watched her boyfriend die of four gunshot wounds), and her four-year-old daughter had been white. If you don’t believe me, you are part of the problem.

A few weeks ago, I got pulled over for driving on the shoulder.

Both of my kids were with me, Aviva in the front seat and Pearl in the back. I was driving on the shoulder because I wasn’t sure if Pearl’s bike was secure in a new bike rack. I had already stopped to check it once, and saw that one of the clips had popped open. I was nervous and decided to return the bike home instead of risking it. But I was driving way under the speed limit, and thus, on the shoulder.

After a mile or two of this, a police officer signaled me to pull over. He asked for my license and registration. I handed him my license, but before I even took out my registration, I said, “Can I just explain to you what’s happening?” He said ok. I proceeded to tell him that this was a new bike rack, the clips had unsnapped, we were about to drive 200 miles north, and I was returning it home so that we could drive safely.

I was nice. I was charming. I was petite. I was white.

Instead of insisting I give him my registration, instead of going back to his car to check my license and background, and instead of giving me a fine, ticket, or even a warning, this policeman stood in the middle of Route 116 and escorted us across the center line into a gas station parking lot. There, I got out of the car and walked freely around to the back, where the officer HELPED ME get the bike correctly, securely, and safely into the clips. Then he sent us on our way to Vermont.

I realized after the fact that my state inspection sticker had been expired. He didn’t even notice.

This — this is white privilege. I didn’t ask for it, but I reaped its benefits. White people — I — need to be talking about these things instead of just accepting and benefiting from them. We need to be doing more to change this. We need to be sitting down and listening, and also showing up and telling stories like this one. And we need to not act surprised, over and over and over, that “this kind of racism exists,” in the words of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. We need to take sides and take action.

“Last night, I watched the video of the shooting of Alton Sterling. To me, it looked like an execution. This morning, I learned about the shooting of Philando Castile and asked myself, how many more? How many more people of color will be shot and killed by law enforcement officers before we act to protect all of our citizens? No one, not anyone, can hide behind their badge to commit murder.”  – John Lewis

Dig, do your own research and reading, listen, watch, learn, and share. Start and keep having difficult conversations. Take the time to educate yourself. Now is the time to take sides.

Here are a (very) few suggestions. Please feel free to share relevant links in the comments.

34 thoughts on “On White Privilege and Taking Sides

  1. em-i-lis says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Jena; your story and all the wonderful links too. I have felt shaky and sick all day- these murders, this racism, guns…it all MUST stop. We will crumble if it doesn’t, and rightfully.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jena Schwartz says:

      Dana, I know. We’re looking into how to get active with a local group for racial justice; don’t know yet in what capacity we can help yet, but need to be doing something beyond sharing links and feeling unconscionably paralyzed. It’s on us. So glad we are talking about it.


  2. Shannon says:

    Thanks so much for articulating what many of us are feeling.
    The links are great, as well.
    I tried to write something myself today in regards to my fear of where we are headed if we don’t stand up to this senseless butchering.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. annwjwhite says:

    I was just going to respond, but then I wrote too much. So, I’m white, middle class, and I’m angry. I have been since Ferguson and Florida and Baltimore and Minneapolis, and DC and and and and I can’t keep up fast enough.

    Time to do something. My sisters who have color, my brothers who have color are being murdered because of latent KKK tendencies. If you are one of those saying we need to change something, you are right. So I challenge all of you who read this. DO SOMETHING. DON’T let this slip out of the public eye and DON’T let us become so much less than all of us together.

    You want to see hate build? Do nothing. Sit. Chat. Laugh. Ignore. You want to see our brothers and sisters murdered and the police denying they have accountability? Do nothing.

    Write. VOTE. Get on the phone and call people. Sit ins. Sit outs. Call your churches to protest together. Do it on Sundays. Just do something.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Brenda Davis Harsham says:

    You were treated decently and with respect by the police. I wish every person, regardless of color, size, age or culture, could be treated the same. We need to stop fearing black men. We need to overcome the urge to stereotype based on color. We need to stop hating. I think the hating comes from the fearing. I wonder if this has what it’s always been like for black people — only now that smart phones allow them to take videos — now we finally understand.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. AprilEsutton says:

    This is a wonderful posting. We take for granted that we will be treated fairly. That is a privilege many people around the world don’t have. The fact that there are people in our country not given that fair treatment because of their skin color or heritage is unjust and un-American.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. hamanne says:

    This blog perfectly captures white privilege. I have had similar experiences. When I try to dig deep to see where I might harbor racism, I often think I’m clean. I don’t think twice if asked if I benefit from white privilege. Of course I do. However, on a day to day basis I take for granted I won’t be followed around in a store if I’m carrying something for later purchase, I don’t worry about my life if I’m stopped for a traffic violation. i don’t think it’s my skin color if some jerk treats me badly.

    The horrid thing is that we now have a presidential candidate who has made those who harbor racism think it’s OK. If your life is not what it once was, blame the other.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Marquessa says:

    I love the authenticity of this piece. It is this kind of perspective that grabs the attention of those who may never have realized this reality. I would love to reblog this in the next few weeks. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. johnnielynn says:

    Why is this white privilege and not just a nice cop? There are good cops out there, and you said it your self you were nice and you were charming. He was also nice. You had kids in the car and he wanted you to get home safely… there are cops out there who do good deeds.


    • Jena Schwartz says:

      He was a nice cop, and of course there are good cops out there who do good deeds. The difference in my mind is that I can pretty much expect and count on this kind of treatment, no matter where I get pulled over, why, or by whom. And *that* is white privilege.



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