Reflections from learning

White Privilege

Siobhan Silas
Level 2 Politics, Philosophy, and Economics student

I went to a Black Lives Matter protest and saw women in their late sixties protesting against police brutality, racial profiling, systematic abuse and mistreatment and I wondered how tiring and painful it must be for them as mothers and grandmothers to have to beg and protest just to be treated equality every day of their lives. I saw babies there no older than 1 or 2 and I wondered if they would have to spend their lives doing the same, filled with rage at how this was still happening, and then I went home. 

I left with friends, planning on when we could meet up again, complaining about when we would ever return to “normality” after this pandemic, my anger shifting to the loss of holidays, nights out, and losing hours at work.

I went to the shop and bought snacks, holding my sign and then boarded a bus all while passing by police, vaguely aware of their presence, undisturbed by them.

At home, my mind already drifted onto online shopping, scrolling through fast fashion websites like Urban Outfitters and Pretty Little Thing with extreme right wing racist and trans-phobic CEOs, justifying abandoning my morals by clothing that was just too cute to not buy.

I listened to my friends’ excuses for not being involved, for not signing petitions, attending protests or speaking out, “I’m not really political” or “something came up” and I also listened to those who didn’t give any, brushing it off.

I listened to family members ‘slightly’ racist jokes, ignoring but not confronting them or my own innate ignorance and prejudice opinions.

I remembered how, as a child growing up in New York City, that if I was lost, I was instructed to go to the police, learning to see comfort in their presence at late nights alone and to cheer and praise my heroes for their work, angry at the few racist ‘bad apples’.

I listened to the news of the heightened charges against Derek Chauvin, now facing second degree murder, along with his colleagues now facing charges for accessory to murder, happy that justice was achieved, but then my phone lit up with the details of the murder of David McAtee, the African American man known for handing out free meals to police officers, shot by officers during these protests who had turned off their body cams, claiming to be only “returning fire”, whilst trying to protect his injured niece and other peaceful protesters rushing to take cover under the flurry of pepper balls and rubber bullets, his body lying in the street for 12 hours. Then I remembered all the names that hadn’t received justice, whose murders still walked free: Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, Toyin Salau, Eric Gardener, and all the names I didn’t remember and I wondered if we really achieved anything at all, if we were destined to continue to fight for the same things, five minutes, five days, years, centuries on, and why this was the case. 

And then I realized how little I had actually done.

I realized how easy it was for me to shed my sign, to walk home, to walk to the store, to complain about the ‘new normal,’ an ‘invisible’ privilege people of colour never have. Their lives have never felt my ‘normal’ of being able to ignore the police presence, or breathe a sigh of relief for police who have never been their heroes but enemies, being no such thing as a ‘bad apple’ if each cop represents a systemically racist system, only being worse apples among a horrific bunch, of mindlessly consuming and supporting racist and trans-phobic leaders who for them don’t just have ‘different views’ but a view that seems them as sub-humans, views which could kill. I realized they couldn’t indulge in the luxury of not being political, because their lives were at stake if they didn’t, because they had to keep fighting to make sure that they retained any equality whilst I was handed mine.

I realized that my half-assed allyship of attending rallies against racism or posting for a few days isn’t enough and that the reason this keeps happening is because for me, this is a trending event one so easy for me to forget about and ignore if it becomes too much. But for people of colour, these events are an unforgettable reminder, every new victim serving as a harrowing example of who they could be, what they face.

I will never be in the same position as these victims, as my friends. I understand that I will never understand their pain or fear. My white skin is a shield from the brutality they face and that’s exactly why I must do better and use my enormous privilege to make change. To stand in solidarity with my peers of colour and amplify their voices and call out myself and my white peers’ ignorance. To risk cutting off friends, family and opportunities to stand against racism. To even risk not shopping at ‘trendy stores’ and to be consistently pushing for change for systematic racism inherent in every corner of our societies that have granted me my privilege, not just for a few minutes or hours but forever. Without doing so, these issues are destined to permanency. 

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