Americans, in particular white Americans, should be getting the message, the message that a large and significant number of people in this country cannot be certain about the day-to-day safety of their children, their friends, their family. That when going off to school, or on an errand around the corner, or out jogging, or just driving around, being a person of color is risky – not just risky, but when interacting with those promising to serve and protect, incredibly scary.
This is now being witnessed nearly every week in the deaths of black men and women at the hands of the police. And it is an ever-present corrosive fear for black families.
This fear is different than the oft-cited, overt, and blatant forms of white privilege: school funding better for white students than those of color; front-of-the-line access to healthcare; preferential treatment in hiring; red-lining; on and on – all out there in the open. These privileges are frequent huge barriers for people of color, blocking the road to equality.
But just as corrosive are the everyday fears of black families concerning the inordinate amount of police attention that black skin attracts. All too often it requires no misbehavior at all for a person of color, of any age, to be confronted by the police for the circumstance of not being white. One can simply be driving a car, or being a news reporter plying his trade on camera, or out bird-watching or just, well, having a darker skin. Even minor misbehavior can be fatal.
This is a concern by families of color that can’t really be experienced or understood by white families.
My mom and dad, typical middle-class Caucasians, never had a great concern about my overall safety when I was outside playing or off on an errand or walking back and forth from school. If acting up at school, the worst possibility would be a call from the principal. They never had the slightest fear that whenever I left the house, I could be arrested, injured or shot and killed at the hands of police for being a kid or doing whatever goofy thing I was doing.
And as I grew up safely, people of color were being brutalized by the police even more frequently than today, having no fear of any evidence being recorded by phones or body cameras.
For example, you may remember Adrian Peterson, the black football player who was prosecuted for using a branch to beat his little boy for misbehavior? Not just spanking, the beating caused serious cuts and slashes all over his body, and Peterson was banned from plying his trade for a season on an NFL gridiron.
The unnecessary violence of the beating was acknowledged by all, black and white. But while not approving the punishment’s severity, black families provided a reason for Peterson’s reaction to his son’s supposed misbehavior: the centuries long history of sons and daughter’s interactions with cops, with horrible consequences.
It is impossible to a white person to feel how incredibly tiring, how depressive, this constant fear must be, how destructive of life, liberty, happiness. And because I am white, the lack of such fears is a pervasive, near invisible form of privilege.
I don’t have to worry that my what skin will attract insults, racial taunts and slurs. I don’t have to constantly fear that my family and friends may not return to their homes safely if going out to eat or on some simple errand. I don’t fear that my son and daughter, if interacting with a cop, could end up choked or shot to death.
No, my white privilege means essentially living in a bubble, the color of my skin insulating and protecting me from a whole range of debilitating anxieties.
Meanwhile, outside that bubble, those with a darker skin must constantly navigate a minefield, a minefield of interactions with white people damaging to any sense of worth, of value. And worse, that at the hands of the police, the constant possibility of injury and death is always there.