Hiding Behind Privilege: What We Must Do in the Wake of Ferguson
In the wake of recent events in Ferguson and New York, many people sigh in dismay at the news and scroll to the next item in their newsfeed. Still others think to themselves, “What can I do about this?”, and when they console themselves that the problem is too big for them to take on by themselves they move on to the next thing on their to-do list. Some even get so far as to voice their question of what to do, unfortunately it is often to a black person expected to represent the entire race. Why do some of us get the privilege of scrolling past this news story or of choosing not to talk about it with our friends, parents, and colleagues?
Recently at work, my black, female supervisor said to our staff that she is tired of hearing the question “What can I do?” With exasperation and exhaustion, she talked about what it was like to go home to her children and have to explain what happened in Ferguson. With tears in her eyes, she told the story of when her daughter said that sometimes she wishes she was white. The point she was making, and I want to make too, is that not everyone gets the privilege of forgetting what occurred in Ferguson, or in New York, or at times, in every city in America. Those of us who are white cannot let ourselves scroll past the news story or drive by five cop cars surrounding one black man. We have to stop overlooking subtle racism and speak up when we notice that a black person is being treated differently than we are.
This kind of response isn’t often the answer we want to hear when we ask “What can I do?” It isn’t something we can do sitting comfortably in our living room, hiding behind our privilege. This is the kind of response that requires action and daily commitment to the idea that what happened in Ferguson is far too common and is a result of systemic racism that is unfair and should never happen again. This requires the understanding that the world in which we live is different for people of different races. Living in black America is not the same as living in white America. Talk to any black person, or any other non-white person, about microagressions they’ve experienced or instances of overt racism and they will unfortunately have a story to tell you. Changing this requires the commitment of others who recognize that there is an issue. It cannot just be black voices fighting for black lives; everyone’s voice is needed. Instead of using our privilege to forget Ferguson and New York, we need to use our privilege to remember and help others tempted to forget to remember it, too. By doing this, we can remember the inequality in America and motivate ourselves to be part of the change.
As my colleague, Tangela Roberts, points out #BlackLivesMatter is a feminist issue. It’s an issue because as long as the system maintains the power all other marginalized groups are fragmented and pitted against one another. Women against men, black against white, Latino against Asian, heterosexual against homosexual, transgender against gay, and the list goes on and on. Until all oppressed people are against the system and not against each other, the system won’t change. This change begins with acknowledging oppression and refusing to stay silent.
-Written by Alyssa Tedder-King