This blog post is not meant to be a definitive look at white privilege or to make judgments about people or to make them feel bad. It is simply to raise some awareness about how easy it is to make someone feel excluded, different, or unwelcome. A person cannot change their race, but they can understand what role their race plays in how they are treated by others. And during these trying times, I think it is especially important to try and be kind and thoughtful.
A quick quiz – answer yes or no, has anyone ever said the following things to you or have you had the following experience?
- Your English is very good.
- Where are you from? And when you answer North Platte, have someone ask further, no, where are you really from?
- Are you a Buddhist?
- Do you know [insert random Asian person]?
- What are you?
- When you travel and/or when you heard about the ICE raids and ICE checkpoints being set up, did you start putting together the additional forms of ID you intend to carry in case there are problems? Along with this, have you ever felt you were singled out for additional security checks because of your appearance?
If you can answer no to all of these questions, you probably have received the benefits of white privilege. I, on the other hand, can answer yes to every one of these questions. In addition, I have been asked these questions many times and generally by virtual strangers or people I was meeting for the first time. Hint – It is good to have some appropriate small talk in your repertoire – in Nebraska you can always talk about the Huskers or the weather and be in pretty good shape.
The “real” answers to these questions:
- English is my first and really only language. My college French is pitiful, but was useful in France to buy train tickets and order food.
- This is a particularly offensive question because it implies I don’t belong here or just got off the boat. Or perhaps they think I came from another planet (something that might be true).
- Sorry, no, a third generation Episcopalian (a cradle Episcopalian to boot). Also, how often is one of your first questions to ask someone what their religion is.
- Probably the most common question asked. Now if they ask me if I know someone from my home town (North Platte isn’t tiny, but I probably know them), that’s okay. That’s a Nebraska thing – we’re always trying to find people we know in common from people’s home towns. But if they think I know every Asian person in the world, or even in Lincoln, it’s pretty offensive.
- That’s kind of an unanswerable question. I’m a lot of things, but probably nothing the questioner is interested in.
- Yes and yes. I always carry at least two forms of photo ID and my Nebraska State Bar Association card. I’m not sure what I think my bar card will do for me, and I’ve never used it; but I’ve always thought I could use it to make them think twice about messing with me. That may be delusional behavior, but you never know. Until I started getting TSA pre-check, it was very unusual for me not to get additional (so called random) checks at airport security lines (Lincoln being the exception).
An interesting fact is that Donald Trump’s mother, Mary Anne Macleod Trump was born in Scotland. She immigrated to the United States in 1930. She became a U.S. Citizen in 1942. Barack Obama’s father was not a U.S. citizen, and his citizenship was questioned by Trump. Both presidents had one parent who was a natural born citizen and one who was not. Apparently that is the only thing they have in common.
I just need to note that both my parents were natural born U.S. citizens, just saying. My grandparents immigrated to this country during the period of 1910-1920. They were prohibited from becoming U.S. citizens until the passage of the McCarran–Walter Act of 1952.
Some other perspectives on white privilege come from Christine Emba , who writes and talks about white privilege, the history of the term and what it means. Poet Gabriel Ramirez talks about what white privilege means to him.
In closing on this topic, please think before you speak. Even if you think you have good intentions in asking these types of questions (not sure what that would be except for personal gratification, i.e. being curious about a person and wanting the answer even if it is really none of your business), please remember that these questions are not a pleasant experience for the recipient. It is different if you are good friends and want to know more about a person and intend to tell them more about yourself. It is intrusive if you are a casual acquaintance or meeting someone for the first time. Boundaries, people, boundaries.
Update on the Nebraska Legislature – Monday, February 13, 2017, is Day 28 of the session – still no permanent rules. Stay tuned for more action/inaction.
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