On Losing My White Privilege

Photo by Jeffery Erhunse on Unsplash

Oh, the thoughts that have crossed my mind in the last few weeks! Things I never imagined I would ever worry about regularly pop into my brain these days.

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Is our democracy going to fail? Will armed gangs of white supremacists start to roam our neighborhood in search of “antifa”? Is America about to become Rwanda in 1994 or Ireland in 1922? What will have to happen in order for other nations to accept us as refugees?

The deep-seated fear and panic really set in for me when masked, armed federal agents started plucking people off the streets of Portland without identifying themselves as law enforcement and taking them in unmarked vehicles to undisclosed locations. I felt physically ill when I saw the videos. This is what happens in third world countries, not America. Or does it?

If I think about it, this has been happening here for a long time, it just hasn’t been happening to people like me. I’ve spent most of my life mostly ignorant of it. Some of the details may be slightly different but it’s always been here.

When you are a White, middle class person with a job, a home, and decent car, as long as you pay your taxes and don’t drink and drive the government generally leaves you alone. The police don’t stop and frisk you or detain you for hours because you “match the description.” If you’re pulled over there is a reason and the police usually let you slide for minor infractions. That means prosecutors don’t typically charge you with a crime for things that shouldn’t matter and then set bail so high that you have to agree to a plea deal to keep your job and get your life back. CPS doesn’t usually investigate your parenting and if they do because of a malicious report it is quickly dismissed.

When my laptop and ring were stolen from our apartment I wasn’t afraid to report the crime to the police. The officer did not accuse me of staging the crime in order to collect insurance even though there was no sign of forced entry. When my husband recently had a background check for a new job he wasn’t afraid. He has never been caught with a little bit of marijuana and charged with a crime, although he has possessed and used it plenty of times in his life. When our son becomes a teenager and begins driving, we will worry about him getting into an accident because he is an inexperienced driver but not about him being beaten or killed by the police because of how or where he drives.

If I really think about it, what I’m actually afraid might happen if our democracy collapses is that I will lose my White, middle class privilege. I’m afraid that the police or deputized militias will be able to stop me and search me without probable cause. I am afraid that they will be able to get away with committing violence on me or my family. I am afraid that my voice and the truth won’t matter against a corrupt authoritarian government. Guess what? Living in fear of the government and police is just a fact of life for low income and BIPOC in our country. It always has been.

I’ve been contemplating ways that my family might be able to cross the border into Canada if Covid restrictions aren’t lifted because I might start to experience things that have always been a part of life for low income and especially Black people in this country. Domestic terrorism is nothing new here. Government overreach and abuse of power is nothing new here. It’s just something White people like me usually don’t face.

A friend of mine is a transgender woman. She once confessed to me how hard it was for her at work after she transitioned because men talked over her, interrupted and dismissed her. I shrugged and smiled and said “Welcome to womanhood!” I suspect that there are more than a few Black people right now who have similar sentiments for White middle-class people like me who are scared of what may come if our democracy collapses. “Oh you’re scared the police will arrest you for no reason and put you in jail for a crime you didn’t commit? Must be scary!” Yeah, I hate it when my white privilege starts showing like an old raggedy slip.

I guess it’s time for White people like me to put on our big kid pants and start being brave in the face of danger. When I was preparing to attend a high conflict Black Lives Matter demonstration, I thought about what might happen. As I watched videos about how to cope with tear gas and pepper spray in the face, I’m not going to lie, I felt very afraid. I’ve never willingly put myself in a position where I might face physical violence before. I put on my safety gear and headed to it anyway. It’s about damn time.