I am a perfect example of white privilege. I grew up in the Jim Crow South where I studied and worked hard to succeed. It was a place that flourished because of slavery. And now I live and work on traditional native land where immigrant farmworkers drive our economy.
Racism was part of my formation. Racism is rooted in past trauma to us and our ancestors. Knowing that trauma is historical and biological leads us to understand that it is systemic. We bear no guilt for being racist, but we must root it out.
Recognition of white privilege leads us to better understanding of why black lives matter; because their lives and those of other marginalized people do not matter in this country as much as white lives do. If black lives mattered, the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery would not have gone uninvestigated by law enforcement for months. If I were Ahmaud’s father, I would have had the power to force an investigation of my son’s death. Ahmaud’s life should be just as valuable to us as my own son’s life.
We must call out racism to our white brothers and sisters, not by starting a fight, but by speaking clearly when we witness it. Ridding ourselves of racism is not comfortable, but it is not costly. Our action might be as simple as commenting on a movie where a Black person is held up as example of succeeding despite adversity. We should ask why that person faced adversity in the first place. Another would be thinking more deeply about local gangs and trying to understand the trauma that leads a young person to seek a gang as family. We should speak out about disparity in voting, workers’ rights, how we are viewed by police, access to health care and inequality in housing, education and wages.
We white people need to stop asking Black people and other people of color to explain racism to us — and to fix it. The roots of racism go deep in this country and the fact that we white people do not understand it or acknowledge it is not the fault of persons of color. It is on us to understand the trauma perpetrated on our fellow citizens of color throughout history and the impact that it has on them.
So how does white privilege hurt us? As a physician, I see this when I talk with families who believe that they are protected against an infectious disease and don’t need an immunization because “they don’t get sick.” They separate themselves from other humans as being special. I can attest that placing one’s self in this category may result in illness or death from a preventable disease.
The bigger harm we suffer, though, is the lack of love for each other. Abolishment of racism and white privilege will help us achieve the goal of the common good upon which our nation was founded.