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Reflections on #whiteprivilege

March 22, 2012

Last evening, over a thousand people of conscience marched through Union Square in NYC in grief, anger and protest over the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a white hispanic, in Florida. Trayvon’s crime was walking while black. Florida’s crime is its gun laws. George Zimmerman has yet to be charged with a crime.

Among those present in the city last night were many friends, including The Rev. Mark Koenig, who has written a very moving reflection on what it meant for him to be present, and the importance of all of us speaking in this moment. Mark’s piece brought out the tears that I have needed to shed for this tragedy. I commend it to you as a prayer.

My son is five years old, and white. To borrow Mark’s words, what happened to Trayvon Martin “is less likely to happen to my son than it is to the sons or daughters of many of my friends. Less likely than it is to happen to the sons or daughters of people I do not know. Less likely than it is to happen to children of color.” This is white privilege.

My son is already a veteran of all sorts of demonstrations, and understands symbols and their power to change people. I told him that a very large group, including many of our friends, marched in the city last night, wearing hoodies, because they believe that “all children should be safe.” Because we believe that too, we both wore hoodies for our walk to school today. He was very proud of this act. “I’m really glad we’re doing this,” he said.

While he and I regularly talk about the problem of guns, and the need for better gun laws in our nation, I did not tell him this week about the killing of Trayvon, nor explain all the reasons for the demonstration in the city. At age five children should still be developing a fundamental trust in their world, and in the ability of parents and police to protect them from danger. And while he is already beginning to explore the edges of his trust, all on his own, he does so without needing to explore the violent history of race and its continuing legacy in our country. But this too is white priviledge.

Kyrie eleison.

May our future be different because of our actions today.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2012 10:46 am

    Glad you were there!

    • March 22, 2012 11:39 am

      Thanks Carla. I wasn’t in the city last night, but home with August. But I was there is spirit. Our walk to school was our way of adding our bodies to the witness that must be made.

  2. Grandma Leslie permalink
    March 22, 2012 12:10 pm

    Returning from my weekly meeting with Rev. Albert on Tuesday, I saw police action (2 cars with lights flashing) in Larchmont on a major thoroughfare. Slowed down just enough to confirm that the driver of the stopped minivan was a black male. Went back and forth with myself about whether I should search high and low for a parking spot and go back to “observe.” Finally decided just to make a mental note and check the police blotters in case I needed to bear witness to the apparent calmness of the driver. I hate it when I do this. Hate it that I feel I have to wonder every time I see police stopping a black driver whether something bd is about to happen to him. Hate having to say a prayer of protection for my twins. But it is my sons who have made this a natural and consistent action for me. I pray for the black men of America and for the law enforcement community that I rely on for protection. And I pray that God will forgive me for the rage each of these sightings fuels in me. Now I have to add prayers for the protection of children like your son who shouldn’t have to even know about such protests.

  3. March 22, 2012 7:28 pm

    Thank you for your own reflection Leslie. Here is another from a black father of a five year old. Another powerful piece. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/etan-thomas/trayvon-martin-black-boys_b_1369873.html

  4. March 22, 2012 8:22 pm

    Love the hoodies! Thanks Jeff for your kind words, for your tears, for your compassion and commitment to justice. Thanks for your care for August. Blessings to you and Noelle as you raise him.

  5. Marcia permalink
    March 22, 2012 8:42 pm

    Thanks for writing, Jeff. Your clear examples of white privilege are important to put into words. When we talk about race we so often talk about things that white people feel we can distance ourselves from. We should always talk about privilege in these conversations. Without whiteness, racism has no traction. Without the privileges you expressed, the reality that killed Trayvon would not have the potency to elicit such violence. My kids (7 and 11) know all too well these realities because they see their 28 year old god brother struggle with the ravages of racism every single day. It is a hard reality and yes, it has taken some of their innocence. They may not have the same sense of security that I did when I was their age. At the same time, they know how to keep loving someone and being in relationship even when racism conspires to pull us apart. Thanks again for writing. God bless you and your family and your ministry

  6. Scott Geary permalink
    March 22, 2012 10:31 pm

    Wow! I love ya cuz but I do have to take umbrage when this tragedy is used to outreach about supposed “white privilege.” The man is not white, he is hispanic. Just because his complexion is light, doesn’t make him white. It’s woI’ll be like calling Obama a black white man due to his mother’s race. Also, take a look at the article concerning Shawn Tyson, a 17 year old black, Florida teen who killed two white, British tourists with his friend. No privilege there. The kids, reportedly admitted that they went looking for someone white to rob.

    Here’s the deal. Once the police told him to back off, he became the aggressor.This alone should make him culpable even if he were attacked by Trayvon. I believe he should be arrested and let the court decide his guilt. He probably racially profiled Trayvon unjustly, but to call his not being arrested “white privilege” is crazy. He’s not white. Have you even seen his picture? Also, for your colleague to say his kids have less chance of this happening to them because of “wire privilege” is simply a matter of geography.

    • Scott Geary permalink
      March 22, 2012 10:46 pm

      Also, for your colleague to say his kids have less chance of this happening to them because of “white privilege” is wrong. It’s simply a matter of geography. There are areas here in San Antonio where I’VE been told not to let the sun go down on me in that area. Am I naive enough to believe we are all treated equally and that race issues don’t exist? No, but let’s address the true issue as they happen and not use one issue to argue another. In this case: a hispanic man racially profiled a black man. He was very wrong to do so. Idiot cops let him get away with it because, like I said, they’re idiots. They were very wrong to do so. It has nothing to do with anyone being white. I support Trayvon’s family and hope justice its served. I also don’t completely disagree with you article. I just don’t necessarily believe it’s appropriate here.

      • Scott Geary permalink
        March 22, 2012 10:53 pm

        But I still love ya! I hope to make it up that way someday. When I do I’d be honored to meet Noelle and August and attend your church.

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