When I asked white friends to attend Not in Our Town’s workshop, presented and co-sponsored by the Princeton Public Library in April, on “Exploring White Privilege”, the answer was sometimes “I’m not privileged, I came up from nothing, I don’t believe in that concept.” Some replied, and it was a good answer, that the white privilege concept wrongly implies that all white people are alike (they aren’t) and that it visited the sins of the fathers on the sons.
I didn’t have a good answer then, I do now. Donald Roscoe Brown, a lawyer who lives in Ewing, wrote an oped published in today’s Times of Trenton (Thursday, June 18, page A-15). Brown’s words were kind to the Lawrence police officer who stopped him “after seeing me for all of five seconds” because he “might not have been wearing his seat belt.” Brown said he was “perhaps poorly trained.”
I too have been stopped for suspicion of not wearing my seat belt, but under much more controlled circumstances, i.e. a seat belt checking station. Brown was simply driving through Brunswick Circle, enroute from Trenton Municipal Court, where he was working on a case involving an unconstitutional stop and search.
To my white friends who don’t acknowledge their white privilege – you will never have to go through the jeopardizing experience of “Driving While Black.”
As a member of Princeton United Methodist Church, I belong to Not in Our Town, a faith congregation-based social action group. It offers continuing opportunities to combat racism and bias in Princeton. For information, comment here or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 thought on “Racial Profiling — It Happens Here”
I think “white privilege” is a poor term for a very complex subject. There are many advantages to looking like the dominant culture, from not having to constantly prove you're good at your job to not being stopped randomly by police. My son's first experience was in Japan, where he couldn't get a cab when he worked late because of his race. He finally understood the meaning of losing the safety of skin color, although he had a good, well paying job. But "white privilege" carries with it the weight of "undeserved". This pejorative can make it difficult for people in the dominant culture, who are really struggling, to understand the ways that people of color in the US must prove their validity as people with rights, often on a daily basis. Secondly, the term implies that the vast advantages of wealth, with its access to powerful people, belongs to all white people–when that clearly is not true. Thirdly, the term implies that exclusionary practices—poor or nonexistent access to health care, good schools, higher education—do not apply to many white people, when this is not true either.For these reasons, I think “white privilege” has become a cudgel that keeps people with similar needs apart, adding to our racial divide instead of healing it. Since the goal is compassion for all peoples by all peoples, I think we need a better vocabulary: one that admits that while life can be difficult for anyone, understanding–and eradicating–the extra burden placed on people of color is a goal necessary to the well being of us all. And that in that quest, we must find solutions to all the injustices that increasingly divide us into rich and poor, healthy and ill, young and old.