My White Privilege

As I normally do on work trips, I packed my running clothes and shoes just in case I had the opportunity to get in a quick run. I love running when I’m out of town as it allows me to explore the cities I’m in while keeping up my exercise. Thankfully, the temperature wasn’t too cold when I woke up in Florissant, the community right next to Ferguson, MO.  There would be plenty of time for me to go before my first meeting.

DS post- White PrivilegeSince I was unfamiliar with the area, I checked my Google Maps to find a good route before heading out. It was early Saturday morning, and the sun was just coming up. I headed down a pretty busy street, then tailed off into some neighborhoods.

With no cars on the road, I chose to run down the middle of the streets instead of the sidewalks. It was easier and allowed me to go a bit quicker (which is not saying much).

Not once did I think this was a bad idea. 

The day before, I along with Pastor Ken Jenkins took some time to ride down Canfield Drive in Ferguson, the street where Michael Brown died.  I was hesitant to be one of the many people who have driven down Canfield over the past year as an onlooker to the events that took place there. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to see what the environment really was like. So much of my perceptions are influenced by what I see in the news that I wanted to see it firsthand.

No outletI was struck to discover Canfield is a “No Outlet” street – a side road off a busy main road with very little through traffic.  It’s lined with houses on either side then apartments. The street dead ends into an apartment complex with a small street on the left taking drivers to the other side of the neighborhood and a roundabout enabling cars to head back out to the main road.

Having lived for years on a small side street with no outlet, I can’t count how many times I’ve walked down the middle of the street to get to my house. It would be as normal as walking on the sidewalk.

For Michael Brown, walking down the middle of the street was one of the key factors that led to his death.

Halfway during my run, I realized the painful irony. If I were African American or any other person of color, I would not have had the freedom to run in these neighborhoods, much less down the middle of the streets. If someone had seen an unknown black man wearing my black pullover running down the street early in the morning, there’s a good chance the Florissant police would have been notified.

Instead, I ran with no care in the world. The epitome of White Privilege.

For those of us who are white, white privilege is not a message of guilt, it’s a call for awareness. It’s not an attempt to shame, it’s a cry for understanding. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.

In “This is What White Privilege Is,” Christine Emba from The Washington Post writes,

“A request to acknowledge one’s privilege is just a reminder to be aware — aware that you might not be able to fully understand someone else’s experiences, that the assumptions you were brought up with may be blinding you, that some people may have to struggle for reasons foreign to you.

Pointing out that white privilege exists isn’t the same as accusing every white person of being a racist. And acknowledging that you might benefit from such privilege doesn’t mean that you’re apologizing for being white…”

Our defensiveness often misses the larger point that we live in a world skewed in our favor. We benefit from being white. And people of color face uphill battles we simply do not face.

Should we feel guilty for that? No.

Should we do something about it? Absolutely.

This first step is knowing it exists and recognizing when it happens. Nothing can be done until we realize how uneven the playing field truly is.

Second, we must enter into the lives of those who experience a world stacked against them. We can never walk in their shoes, but we should walk close enough to at least get a taste.

And third, we need to take a step. There is no prescription or formula. If there were, we’d run the risk of being the savior, which is what we white people often tend to do.

For me, one of my steps is writing this blog. Another is being intentional to hire people of color in positions of power in our organization. Another is regularly putting myself in situations where I am the minority.

I will never arrive with this. It’s a forever, ongoing journey for me. I know my run is one of many examples of privilege I experience on a daily basis. Some I recognize. Some I completely miss.

Regardless, it’s a journey I’m willing to take.

How about you?

14 replies
  1. Derrick A. Lovick
    Derrick A. Lovick says:

    Well said, David. I appreciate you sharing your experience in MO and how it added to your perspective on this topic. Your insight, compassion and wisdom are helpful in making a difference in the lives of others. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Andrea Mangum Chapman
    Andrea Mangum Chapman says:

    I appreciate your take on this. It’s something that I think about often, especially going to an intentionally multi-ethnic church. If we are not purposeful in pursuing relationships with people who experience racism then we will not truly be able to see it or understand it. It’s something I am definitely working on!

    Reply
  3. Heather
    Heather says:

    What led to his death was him reaching in the window of the cop car, punching the officer, while attempting to get the officers gun. But I digress

    Reply
    • David Spickard (@davidbspickard)
      David Spickard (@davidbspickard) says:

      Heather, acknowledging Michael Brown’s position in the road as one of the factors that led to his death does not dismiss several other factors including the actions both Michael and Officer Wilson may or may not have taken. Thank you for your comment.

      Reply
  4. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    It’s difficult to live in a world where the privilege of others is more important than the impact that privilege has on others as a whole. It’s like screaming in a clear bubble all your life. Either you’re completely ignored and never heard or you’re told by those that benefit from being privileged to get over it. Get over a disease put on you by someone else? There is something to be said about simply acknowledging a person’s plight. It means they aren’t crazy, they aren’t invisible and you see them. Then they can stop screaming and catch their breath hoping all the while that progress doesn’t end there. Thank you for opening yourself to see!

    Reply
    • David Spickard (@davidbspickard)
      David Spickard (@davidbspickard) says:

      Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing. I assume you’ve experienced this firsthand. If so, you aren’t crazy. People see you. Be encouraged.

      Reply
  5. Mary
    Mary says:

    David,

    I deeply appreciate the steps you have taken in order to comprehend the reality of those who more often than not must live their lives defined by the misperceptions of others. It truly is a difficult journey. For those who opt not to consider this simple truth – one can look at the life of Christ as an example as he suffered and was crucified because of the misperceptions of others and their fears about what HE might accomplish. It is from this source that I draw my strength, hope, and courage to continue living the life I have been graciously granted. And, although it is filled with barriers, I still rise each day with the affirming knowledge of Romans 8:35-39. Again, thank you for your humility and willingness to affirm the truth.

    Reply
    • David Spickard (@davidbspickard)
      David Spickard (@davidbspickard) says:

      Mary, thank you for your encouragement. It’s good to know we have a Savior who truly understands what it means to be misunderstood.

      Reply
  6. Barbi
    Barbi says:

    I most certainly and regretfully do not deny that White Privilege exists and it breaks my heart but I think that the unfortunate consequences of lawlessness are often confused with racism.

    Reply
    • David Spickard (@davidbspickard)
      David Spickard (@davidbspickard) says:

      Barbi, thank you for responding. I think you’re right, there are times when racism and lawlessness are not connected. On the other hand, we’ve seen over and over again in our work at Jobs for Life, they’re tightly connected. As an example, I recently visited a jail where over 95% of the inmates where African American. The representative from the jail told me those inmates represented only 40% of the people arrested. The other 60% were white people arrested for similar crimes who were able to avoid jail time because of wealth or other connections.

      Reply
  7. Deborah Timmons
    Deborah Timmons says:

    Thanks David,
    I just completed the JFL journey. I am much more prepared. Thanks for your story and keeping it real. I feel so encouraged to know of someone that is willing to keep it real. Continue on with what you are doing…God is obviously using you for greater heights! Deborah

    Reply
    • David Spickard (@davidbspickard)
      David Spickard (@davidbspickard) says:

      Deborah, congratulations, that’s fantastic news! May the Lord continue to show His favor over you. Your encouragement is a real blessing. Thank you!

      Reply

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