As a white person engaged in anti-racism work, one of the things I struggle to get a firm grip on is my white privilege: that internal voice and belief system that tells me everything is going to be ok and I’ll usually come out on top.
It’s an arrogance that comes from looking like the people who have ruled this country for generations, regardless of my own personal or family story.
I’m raising a teenage daughter and working hard not to pass on the blind sense of privilege I inherited. Never mind the fact that I’m not too far removed from immigrant grandparents who had barely a grade-school education. My parents were both professionals with advanced degrees. No matter how much they might have suffered as first generation Americans, they passed on to me the internalized expectation that I was as good as anyone, that I would have adequate, if not surplus, resources and never know want. I am white, a man, and now, unfailingly older – privileged to the power of three.
Through my experience with the anti-racism organizing at Solid Ground, I have learned to identify my privileges. I strive to recognize my privilege programming in my daily interactions with others, and to recognize that my sense of entitlement and privilege is far from the reality of most who come to Solid Ground for work, services or a way to participate in building a better community.
I was reminded of the benefits of white privilege in a round-about way last month. Reading the The Seattle Times Sports section, I learned that famous pitcher Roger Clemens’ trial for perjury ended in mistrial. Clemens was accused of lying in statements made during previous legal actions concerning his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.
Judge Reggie Walton ruled that prosecutors had used “extremely prejudicial” evidence in the trial and let him off on what amounts to a technicality. Clemens’ crack legal team and the incompetence of prosecutors assigned to the case got him off the hook.
On the other hand, our judicial system is stuffed full of people, disproportionately people of color, who have been entrapped, held and convicted because of prejudicial evidence, overbearing police tactics and unprepared civil defense teams. The vast majority of people who are incarcerated do not have access to the high-powered defense team Clemens bought.
And they certainly don’t have fans throughout the court system the way Clemens does.
Following the trial’s abrupt end, Clemens “accepted hugs from a couple of court workers, shook hands with the security guards, and autographed baseballs for fans…” before “ducking into a nearby restaurant to escape the media horde following him.”
So, he strode into the courtroom, an award-winning pitcher taking to the mound, knowing his fastball and location would overwhelm his opponent. More disenfranchised people approach court expecting they will lose, regardless of the truth, and that their human dignity might well be assaulted along the way.
I’ve never thrown a Big League pitch nor made millions doing anything. But I share Clemens’ arrogance and assumption that I will win, that the world will take care of me. The real question, I guess, is what I do with that knowledge…