A little less than two years ago, I was about to perform in my first ever spoken word poetry show as part of Yale's parents' weekend. As my parents watched me walk on to the stage, my mom's phone buzzed with a call from my little brother, who was home with my Grandmother and our dog, Stu. When she didn't pick up, he left a message that, while difficult to make out due to shoddy cell reception, made it clear that the call was urgent because Harry was locked out of the house. What follows is the text conversation between Harry and my mom after she listened to the voicemail.
Mom: You're locked out of the house?
Harry: Not me but Stu yes. So I'm with him and Granny outside.
Mom: What?? Give me a minute. Alex performing.
Harry: OMG emergency.
Mom: You're not locked out but Stu is?? Ok one minute.
Harry: Granny and Stu are locked out so I'm out there with them.
Mom: Do you have a key?
Harry: yes, but Granny and Stu can't get in.
A few more minutes of frantic texting later, the real problem became apparent: a storm had knocked out the power to our house. The building is surrounded by a small fence with an electric gate, so the power outage left Harry with only one option: jump the fence. Neither our grandmother nor our dog could follow him over the fence, so he texted the person we all call one when we need help: mom. However, in asking for help he forgot to mention that the power was out, which caused the hilarious miscommunication above.
It was only a couple months later, in thinking about the story, that I realized how exactly it describes white privilege. Whenever someone in my family tells this story, it’s always a comedy: the ridiculous text conversation between my mom and Harry is the focal point. However, there have been far too many news stories in the past few years in which a young man in America found the problem my little brother was faced with far less comedic. Too many times I’ve heard stories like that of DeShawn Currie, who was pepper sprayed by the police inside of his own suburban home, despite pointing out pictures of himself to the officers who assaulted him. It’s a scenario like this that my family never even considered as Harry vaulted the wall into our yard, but one that many American families need to be wary of.
That’s what white privilege means: not that the life of every white person will be easy or always has been easy, but that white people living in America generally don’t face, simply because they’re white, some challenges that Americans of other races have to face every day. White privilege is the privilege to tell the story I just told as nothing more than a comedy instead of as an averted tragedy, which it could have been if my family's ancestors had come from a different continent or had more melanin in their skin. It’s the privilege to live without the fear that a great many Americans have to live with, a privilege we need to recognize and acknowledge.
With excitement and optimism,