“Just People”, an essay on White Privilege

I wrote this as a response to an opinion piece in The Advocate/NOLA.com by Will Sutton, titled “Siri knows why Black Lives Matter. Do you?” (June 13).

Mr. Sutton, to use your phrase, I’m unapologetically white. And old.

In your column, you quote Dr. David Robinson-Morris of Xavier University. He identifies the crux of white privilege as I have come to understand it, and as I have experienced it in my life. 

“This is the delusion of whiteness,” he said. “They don’t have white lives. They just have lives. They are not white people. They are just people.”

That sounds a lot like liberty to me. I am free to do, say, or think what I want as long as it doesn’t impinge on anyone else’s rights. My actions and attitudes reflect the content of my character, not that of all folks who coincidentally share my skin tone. I am an individual, not a member of a monolithic group.

Once upon a time black people had to worry about being “a credit to [their] race”, as Hattie McDaniel said in her Oscar speech. Today that phrase makes us cringe, and rightfully so.

But somehow we, white people and black people, didn’t completely leave that attitude behind. Black people still carry a burden, that what they do, say, or think is somehow a reflection of their authenticity.

So we have black Americans who have achieved the pinnacle of success in their fields, like Justice Clarence Thomas and Dr. Ben Carson, who should be held up as role models. Instead, they are showered with the vilest of epithets, from whites as well as blacks, over what they believe.

We have a white candidate for high office telling a black audience that if they have a hard time choosing a candidate in the upcoming election, “You ain’t black.” I have no words …

That word “just” has another meaning, you know. Only when we love our neighbor as ourselves, as individuals, can we approach being a truly just people.

My prayer is for all Americans to feel the liberating freedom of being “just people”.

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