In memory of Trayvon Martin & all American boys killed for being black: What is white privilege.

Trayvon Martin was killed a year ago today [February 26, 2013 ]. In his memory and in the memory of all the African Americans killed simply for having the wrong skin in the wrong place, I’m re-upping the following, written in the wake of Trayvon’s murder. May he rest in peace, may his family find some measure of justice and peace, and may we take upon ourselves the burden of making this country a better place. Stories like this give me hope.

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Trayvon MartinWhen my husband and I came to Chicago from Israel so that I could go to graduate school, we had no intention of staying here permanently.

But then the second Palestinian intifada happened, and the Israeli government’s entirely irresponsible and deadly response to same, and we came to a conclusion: We no longer wanted to raise children in Israel.

At the time, we only had the one child, a round-cheeked toddler boy, but the fact of his boy-ness sharpened the point. Our choice came mostly out of a desire to educate him differently, to not sacrifice his up-bringing and our values on the altar of occupation and settlement, but there was an unavoidable sense of having also snatched our son from the jaws of war — because in Israel, of course, every 18 year old boy is drafted into the military. Girls go, too, but they don’t see combat. They don’t die.

I bring this up now because I’ve been thinking a lot about all the parents of African American boys who are holding their sons a little closer today in the wake of the horrible, heartbreaking Trayvon Martin case.

My aunt is one of those moms — white as me, but mom to a black man who was once young, a young black man who was stopped for jogging in his own neighborhood, a young black man for whom she would tremble a little whenever he went into the city.

Like every other parent of a young black man, my aunt knew that my cousin could be frisked, arrested, and even killed for little but his youth, gender, and skin.

Like Trayvon Martin.

Like Travares McGill.

Like Sean Bell.

Like Timothy Stansbury, Jr.

Like Amadou Diallo.

Like Oscar Grant.

Like Orlando Barlow.

Like Aaron Campbell.

Like Steven Eugene Washington.

Like Kiwane Carrington.

Kiwane Carrington was 15 when he was killed. Steven Eugene Washington was autistic. Orlando Barlow “was surrendering and on his knees.”

All were killed by people charged with protecting them, whether as law enforcement or law enforcement support of one kind or another. None were armed.

When I look at my boy — on the cusp of adolescence, at the brink of a teenager’s certainty and stupidity, about to try on the world in the guise of a boy-man — I can imagine what might have been: We might have sent him to the Israeli military, he might have worn that uniform, we might have sat by the phone and trembled in fear.

But we removed him and ourselves from those might-haves. We stayed in a place where just being a young man did not by definition mean offering yourself up to die.

For Trayvon Martin, Travares McGill, Sean Bell, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell, Steven Eugene Washington, Kiwane Carrington, and countless others, however, there was never a choice.

These days, Americans spent a lot of time arguing about “white privilege” — if it exists, what it means, what its consequences might be.

But I think I know what white privilege is.

White privilege is never being frightened for my son’s life, simply because of the color of his skin.

****************

Please also see: 

What is white privilege, pt II – “If you watch the following and realize that you have never needed to share any of these tips with anyone you love, you’re living with a very particular kind of privilege.”

What is white privilege part the I’ve lost count.

Tagg Romney

As you likely know already, Tagg Romney (son of Mitt and an increasingly high-profile surrogate for his father on the campaign trail) said yesterday that he would “like to take a swing at” President Obama for saying that his dad had lied.

Ok then. Let’s assume that the candidate’s son/surrogate is not going to own the fact that his dad has, in fact, peddled in inaccuracies and untruths for the entire campaign — I mean, that would be nice? But yeah. And let’s put aside the fact that Tagg went on to say that he didn’t act on his impulse because the Secret Service stood between him and the President and “that’s the process” — I believe he was joking, so “I didn’t hit the President because Secret Service woulda clocked me” is all just part of the joke. And let’s even put aside the fact that the man is 42 years old and the father of six children — he should know better than to sound like an aggrieved adolescent, but apparently he doesn’t, so there’s not a lot we can do about that.

But is he a racist? And is it inherently racist to jokingly threaten violence against this country’s first African American President?

As to the first question: I have no idea. I don’t know what’s in Tagg Romney’s heart, but I suspect that his motivation was less racist (“I think it’s funny to suggest that I’d like to beat that black man down”) and more entitled (“No one talks like that about my dad, raggle-snaggle”).

As to the second question, my personal opinion is that: No. It is not inherently racist to jokingly threaten violence against this country’s first African American President. Indeed, I’m sure there are all kinds of reasons to hate Obama that have nothing to do with his skin color, and all kinds of reasons to want to clean his clock. The itch to clean the clock of a man who happens to be black is not, by definition and unto itself, racist.

However.

As some folks have been doing around the web today, let’s flip it: Let’s imagine that President Obama had a grown son who said in 2008 that he’d like to “take a swing at” John McCain.

Or wait. I can’t imagine that. Because it wouldn’t have happened. In no small part because if it had happened, Barack Obama would not be President today.

It seems to me that an American black man grows up learning, at every turn, to control himself and the image he presents to the world: Don’t walk out of the store without a store bag and receipt — someone might accuse you of stealing your gum. Don’t wander aimlessly outside your crush’s house — someone might arrest you. Don’t argue with an authority figure who has it all wrong — someone might shoot you. And don’t ever play to all the worst stereotypes that white people have of you — even in jest — because if you do, someone, somewhere will use it to run you into the ground. And all of this goes double if you have academic, professional, or political aspirations.

Barack Obama’s imaginary son would have learned all of this just as his father, his uncle and his friends did. He would have learned to keep his hands out of his pockets when talking to the police, and he would have learned to never use the language of violence in a radio interview. And if he were serving on his dad’s campaign, he would have come to look not unlike Theo Huxtable, in all his nonthreatening cuteness.

So I do believe that there is racism here: It’s in the society in which a 42 year old father of six with familial political aspirations on the national stage can mouth off about the Commander in Chief without thinking about it because he’s white and has never in his life had to give that sort of behavior so much as a second’s thought. And have it brushed aside by the (white) national press.

It’s a complicated kind of racism, one that involves the way I’m raising my own white son as much as it involves Tagg Romney, and thus it is the kind of racism that is most difficult to discuss. You can’t point at it, and you can’t legislate it away. It’s in the air we breathe and the water we drink.

As an exercise, stop for a minute and try to imagine any prominent African American or prominent African American’s adult child saying anything even remotely like what Tagg Romney said in a frustrated moment: Colin Powell, Cory Booker, Keith Ellison, Condoleeza Rice, Allen West, Maxine Waters. Or, God help her, Michelle Obama (of course, she’s already proven that she knows how to be careful).

Not having to think like that? That’s white privilege.

**********

Earlier:

What is white privilege.

Not getting peanuts thrown at you — white privilege, part the many.

John Lennon, Rick Perry and words that are not ours.

White Americans really need to shut up and listen.

What is white privilege, pt II.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, I wrote a post called “What is white privilege.” As of today, I think that post can pretty well be summed up thusly:

If you watch the following and realize that you have never needed to share any of these tips with anyone you love, you’re living with a very particular kind of privilege.

*

This is our America. What are we going to do about it?

For more about the song and the clip, click hereh/t @elonjames and @jasiri_x

*************

Please also see: 

What is white privilege.

What is white privilege.

Trayvon Martin

When my husband and I came to Chicago from Israel so that I could go to graduate school, we had no intention of staying here permanently.

But then the second Palestinian intifada happened, and the Israeli government’s entirely irresponsible and deadly response to same, and we came to a conclusion: We no longer wanted to raise children in Israel.

At the time, we only had the one child, a round-cheeked toddler boy, but the fact of his boy-ness sharpened the point. Our choice came mostly out of a desire to educate him differently, to not sacrifice his up-bringing and our values on the altar of occupation and settlement, but there was an unavoidable sense of having also snatched our son from the jaws of war — because in Israel, of course, every 18 year old boy is drafted into the military. Girls go, too, but they don’t see combat. They don’t die.

I bring this up now because I’ve been thinking a lot about all the parents of African American boys who are holding their sons a little closer today in the wake of the horrible, heartbreaking Trayvon Martin case.

My aunt is one of those moms — white as me, but mom to a black man who was once young, a young black man who was stopped for jogging in his own neighborhood, a young black man for whom she would tremble a little whenever he went into the city.

Like every other parent of a young black man, my aunt knew that my cousin could be frisked, arrested, and even killed for little but his youth, gender, and skin.

Like Trayvon Martin.

Like Travares McGill.

Like Sean Bell.

Like Timothy Stansbury, Jr.

Like Amadou Diallo.

Like Oscar Grant.

Like Orlando Barlow.

Like Aaron Campbell.

Like Steven Eugene Washington.

Like Kiwane Carrington.

Kiwane Carrington was 15 when he was killed. Steven Eugene Washington was autistic. Orlando Barlow “was surrendering and on his knees.”

All were killed by people charged with protecting them, whether as law enforcement or law enforcement support of one kind or another. None were armed.

When I look at my boy — on the cusp of adolescence, at the brink of a teenager’s certainty and stupidity, about to try on the world in the guise of a boy-man — I can imagine what might have been: We might have sent him to the Israeli military, he might have worn that uniform, we might have sat by the phone and trembled in fear.

But we removed him and ourselves from those might-haves. We stayed in a place where just being a young man did not by definition mean offering yourself up to die.

For Trayvon Martin, Travares McGill, Sean Bell, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell, Steven Eugene Washington, Kiwane Carrington, and countless others, however, there was never a choice.

These days, Americans spent a lot of time arguing about “white privilege” — if it exists, what it means, what its consequences might be.

But I think I know what white privilege is.

White privilege is never being frightened for my son’s life, simply because of the color of his skin.

***********************

Update – please also see: 

What is white privilege, pt II – “If you watch the following and realize that you have never needed to share any of these tips with anyone you love, you’re living with a very particular kind of privilege.”

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