The above video for River by Leon Bridges is some of the most beautiful and moving five minutes of filmmaking I’ve seen as of late. It also has my heart heavy thinking about racial inequality in America, as well as what my role as a white male is in this fight. I have no solutions to offer, or even an idea where to begin, but I do know the following:
- 1 in 15 black men are expected to go to prison compared to 1 in 106 white men.
- Black men and women earn 75% and 65%, respectively, compared to white men.
- Black children are almost 4X more likely to grow up in poverty than white children.
These statistics are nothing new, we’ve all heard them before. But here’s your challenge: take a minute to ask yourself why the numbers are as such. There are two potential answers:
- Black people, as a whole, are simply more prone to trouble and drug abuse. They are inherently lazy and unwilling to work at bettering their standing in life.
- Black people, as a whole, are at an institutional disadvantage put in place by a system that arose from slavery and free labor, which was created by wealthy white Europeans to serve their interests.
To deny the latter, puts you in camp #1. I’ll tolerate this viewpoint, but only if you agree to own one or all of the following:
- You believe black people are inherently lazy.
- You believe black people aren’t as smart or capable as white people.
- You believe black people aren’t as moral as white people.
Of course believing any of these is your right, but it also, by definition, makes you a racist.
White Privilege is Real
My grandparents were midwestern, depression-era, farmers who came from poverty and worked hard for what they have and where they are in life. My parents instilled in me a hard work-ethic from a young age (much to OSHA’s dismay, I was running a backhoe on my dad’s construction site well before I had a driver’s license). I’ve worked hard to get where I am, as I’m sure you have.
But I also can’t deny the inherent advantages and help along the way I’ve been afforded simply because of the color of my skin. I think back to encounters I’ve had with the police, where, had I been black, might not have turned out so well. Furthermore, favorable circumstances largely go unnoticed, as they’ve simply been what we’ve been conditioned to expect through our white American experience.
The intent of the Black Lives Matter movement, or white privilege discussion, is not about taking away from what anyone has achieved or suggesting that those who are successful are undeserving. We all fight our own battles, rich, poor, black, or white. Instead it’s about acknowledging that we, as a country, indeed have a serious, institutional race problem, and committing to it’s resolve by any means necessary.
As an endnote:
A lot of people get hung up on the semantics of “black lives matter” and simply react or respond with “all lives matter.” However, the Black Lives Matter movement is not implying that only black lives matter. Of course all lives matter, but that’s irrelevant to the conversation. Think about it in terms of the following analogy: A house is on fire. Does the fire dept start spraying all the houses in the neighborhood, on fire or not, or do they focus their efforts on the house that’s in the most danger of destruction? Yes, all those houses still matter, but in that moment, there is one clearly in need of attention.