By: Kristi Rizzo
What is a privilege? A privilege is an advantage. Do white people have an advantage JUST because they are white? I never used to think so. My mind was changed a few years ago.
While riding in the car after a sporting event, my then-5-year-old son boldly stated, “I wish I was black.” Let me explain. This kid is obsessed with sports. He loves to play. And, some of his most admired athletes at that time were black men. He wanted to be like those guys. Play like those guys. Many little boys dream of being tremendous athletes. He was no different.
I view his proclamation a few different ways. One could argue that my little boy’s innocent statement is an example of his white privilege. Because of it, he had no inkling that people of color might have challenges just because of their skin color. Is that childhood innocence or white privilege? A person of color might say white privilege. Many white people would say childhood innocence. Acknowledging white privilege seems to be a tough task for many. Asking yourself, REALLY asking yourself, some tough questions might change your mind.
Another way to look at the “I wish I was black” statement is through the eyes of a parent. My reaction as a mother was an immediate and firm, “No, you don’t.” Without even thinking about it, I knew that my little boy would face so many more challenges as a black boy than he would as a white boy. And, I would carry so many more worries as the mother of a black boy.
You see, my son’s declaration came not long after Trayvon Martin lost his life, and the story was all over the news. Since that time there has been story after story about young, black men in the news. As a mother, I imagined how many more worries I would have sending my black son into the world. Worries that don’t really exist as the mother of a white son.
Since the time of my little boy’s statement, I have had many professional opportunities to explore the topic of white privilege. I’ve had candid conversations with colleagues and students. I’ve been taking a close look at how I respond and react to people of color and really all things having to do with race. Looking in the mirror can be hard. It is hard to admit racial bias. It is hard for a white person to admit that white privilege is a real thing.
To be clear, having white privilege doesn’t mean that you have led a privileged life. It simply means that by being white you have an advantage that you wouldn’t have if you were a person of color. My privilege is that I don’t worry about my son in the same way that my black friend does when she sends her son out into the world. This is as simple as having less worry when you send your son out the door to hang out with his friends or to go to the mall. I have the privilege of not really worrying about my nearly 17-year-old son walking through our town on a Friday evening and being mistaken for a criminal. The fact is, this privilege wouldn’t be there if my son were black.
This is only part of my white privilege. It is uncomfortable and challenging. I’ll keep trying and I hope others will, too.