I posted this article in July 2015, with the the situation today I decided to republish this post.
When was the last time you were pulled over by the police? At times it can be very scary, but not as scary as it is to someone of color. The last time I was stopped, I remember that I was taking my daughter to an appointment with her orthodontist . I do not remember the circumstances of the stop other than the officer was friendly, he took my license, registration and insurance card, ran it through his checks. Afterward he calmly and politely told me to be careful and let me go. This was late 1988 in Beaverton, I had just retired from the Army, was working as a carpenter and I was 40 years old. Oh yes, I am white.
Let us change things just a little bit. It is still 1988 and I am 40 years old, just retired from the Army, working as a laborer and I am black. How would that police officer react to me then? I do not know, but I do know one thing, that if I had said just one word out-of-place I could have found myself at the police station and Lord only knows what they would have done with my daughter. My wife was at home and we had only one car.
That is only one example of white privilege. I know that I can drive down the street a few miles an hour faster than the limit, and get away with it. I have changed lanes without signaling properly. I can walk down the street of my neighborhood at 10:30 or 11 o’clock at night without being challenged. How many of our brothers and sisters of color can say that? They do not need to be black, they can be Hispanic, Asian, or even Native American.
When I went into the Army in 1968, there was racial discrimination going on. As I learned later it was not like it had been just a few years earlier. The Army was coming out of its own era of race riots and discrimination and they realized that something needed to be done. It was not until 1972 that I attended my first race relations class. Growing up in Portland where I had attended a school that was 90% black for a couple of years I thought I was ahead of the game. In that first class I started to learn what was meant by white privilege.
I watched my peers get promoted before me which only made me work harder to gain that promotion to remain with my peers. When I reached the higher levels of rank I found that I had a lot of friends within that rank structure. We did not just associate only with members of our own race but mixed comfortably together.
Retiring and returning to civilian life was a big jolt. Going into construction was an even bigger jolt. I was use to the sheltered life of the military. The racial separation that I now encountered was a strange world that I had entered. Construction has its own discriminatory structure and it is not just race, if you do not have connections you will find the going tough. The phrase FBI does not refer to that federal agency but to Friends, Brothers and In-laws, and when they say brothers they definitely do not mean the women within their own family. They want it to remain a man’s world. My wife’s step-father was a retired carpenter and even with that I had to find my own way in the industry.
Americans have a way of pushing things they do not want to think about under the surface and out of sight. These past 6 ½ years has bought the subject of race back out in the open again. Calling our President names, mocking him with pictures and trying to hamstring him and thwart all his endeavors to lead this country and try to deny him his place in history. When I was growing up I was taught to respect the office and the man (or woman) who holds that office no matter what your opinion of them was.
I hear people from the south talk about the confederate flag and the heritage it symbolizes in their lives. Really? That piece of cloth that symbolizes racism, slavery and bigotry, but more importantly treason. Is that the heritage that you want to hold on too? Is that the heritage you want to pass down to your children? Most of those I hear speak about this so-called heritage would not have had the money to buy one slave but cling to that worn out idea of what the southern way of life was. They are so afraid that someone will take away their perceived privileges.
The flag of treason is finally down and may its symbol be placed in the same place in the annuals of history as that of all other oppressive parts of our world’s history.