Privilege, Michael Brown, and Harvey Milk

I posted this on Facebook the other day, and the reaction was pretty strong, so I figured I’d share it here.

I’m such a white guy, an all-American-looking white guy whom old ladies trust on sight. No cop has ever pulled me over for random questioning on the street. No customs agent has ever asked me to open my bag. I know when a traffic cop pulls me over I can feign helpless incompetence and stand a good shot at nothing harsher than a fix-it ticket. In fact, I once showed up in court because I had a “failure to appear” and I told the judge in my middle-American, educated accent that I simply hadn’t understood what I was supposed to do, and he rolled his eyes and sent me home with no penalty, leaving him free to deal with the people in the room who were not white.

This is privilege. It’s nothing I’ve earned. It’s not even something I can counteract. But I can recognize that some unarmed people are shot in cold blood just because they don’t share my privilege. And I can believe what they tell me about their experience and their lives.

About 120 comments later, after a bunch of arguments about privilege, I got what was intended to be praise from someone dear to me. He wrote:

I may not be able to articulate my thoughts as well as others on this post, but I thought I would chime in.

I would like to make a comparison with my soon to be brother in law and the shooting incident.

Lead by example. This is what I mean.

I admire Rob for being a strong advocate to the gay and lesbian community. He makes posts to start a discussion on gay and lesbian rights. These discussions begin to shed a light on how the community feels and are being treated. What he would like to see change. In a peaceful way.

When the proposition for gay marriage didn’t pass the community didn’t riot and loot. They didn’t hold cities hostage. They put on more parades . They stepped up there presence in the community. As the society began to feel less threatened more people began to open their hearts and minds.

What’s happening in Missouri is not helping the cause for racism. It’s closing off the minds of society and creating more stereotypes. Rosa Parks did more for equality by sitting on a bus then the rioters. 

Racism stems for hate of ones self. If you don’t love and accept who you are you tend to lash out at others to make yourself feel better. Love yourself and you will have learned to love others.

Lead by example and others will look up and admire you. Like my brother in law Rob

It’s true that I’m a peace-maker and consensus-seeker at heart (blame it on being the youngest child in family where my older siblings fought hard with my dad), but I had to tell him this, in a series of wine-assisted comments:

I have to take issue with what you’re saying and offer a different perspective. Yes, it’s true that after Prop 8 Will and I and others organized a peaceful candle-lit march in protest, with great coverage from all four local networks, and that was great.

But before that, we participated in shutting down [the intersection at] hollywood and highland. We (and all the protesters) were polite to the police (a recurring theme through all the Prop 8 protests was the repeated thank yous called to police) but Will and I have fantastic memories of that civil disobedience.

But go back earlier and you have Dan White, who killed both the straight mayor of San Francisco and a gay city supervisor. Because he killed a fag, he had legal defense funds set up in his name and he ultimately was acquitted. The gays rioted — and why not! Once your society has announced your life has no value, then what do you have to gain from maintaining that civil order?

I think the same thing is happening in Ferguson. No, it’s not a strategically good move — or maybe it is, if it wakes people up. Personally, I’m not likely to go around setting cars on fire in any circumstance, but if you cast a group out of society, as has happened in my lifetime to both gays and blacks, you shouldn’t be surprised when they react with no regard for the laws of that society.

Drops mic. (and then sneaks off stage when no one claps).

That’s all.

[Correction: Dan White was not acquitted, but was convicted of voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder, and served five years for killing two men.]

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3 comments to Privilege, Michael Brown, and Harvey Milk

  • 1
    JCF says:

    “When the proposition for gay marriage didn’t pass the community didn’t riot and loot. They didn’t hold cities hostage.”

    Oy vey. One thing I can tell you: the above quote is Bad For Gays (and worst for Black Gays!)

    When standing in a pool of gasoline, put away the damn matches, could you?

    ETA: that final “you” being the commenter, above, not you Rob.

  • 2
    Michael says:

    As an old white man who was in the demonstrations and riot when Mr. Milk was killed and White was given such light jail time I struggle with the current condition of racism in this country. I struggle with racism. I started working for Civil Rights as a teen in the latae 60′s and inthe 70′s for Gay rights.

    There is such a big difference in the struggle. Despite all of the irrational hatred for Gay folks, as a white man I can always pass and appear straight as needed. People of color can not.

    I am a professional who works with many professional people of color. I cringe at the, almost daily, black on black crime in my city. I cringe when near by communities with predominately black politicians running a city that is broke and almost yearly are recalling one official or another. These actions seem to support the biggots.

    I struggle with the institutionalized racism in my country and state (Indiana). The city schools have the majority of students of color and suffer from an appaling rate of black kids kicked out of school. These children come from homes with no tradition of education, families with odds I can not image. The state has the most generous voucher program in the nations and more and more white students and those students of color whose families understand the need for an education, are going to private (mostly Catholic Schools who were on the verge of closing) to avoid the challenges of public schools.

    I don’t have the answers and what scares me is the increasing divide in this country. As gays we are able to rally our family and friends to support us by voting. The turn out of people of color in my area is small and when I ask friends and coworkers why they don’t vote they respond that it doesn’t matter if they vote or not.

    To me, the challange is to motivate people of color and help folks of all races get to the polls and change the politial climate in this country. We liberals bitch and moan about the Teabaggers but sit at home and do nothing.

    It is my hope and prayer that what has happened in out side of St. Louis is the wake up call we need.

    Rob, thanks so much for your though provoking posts. I love this site and miss when you are not posting often.

  • 3
    clayton says:

    So I guess Rob’s commenter never heard of the Stonewall riots either

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