I recently spoke to a large group of young people. I told stories from my life, imparted a few bits of wisdom, and took some questions.
One of the young ladies asked me how I was able to pull myself out of homelessness and poverty and become a successful person when so many others struggle to get themselves back on their feet.
First, I assured her that it was a struggle. When you're working 50 hours a week while double majoring at two different colleges simultaneously and serving as Treasurer of the Student Senate, President of the National Honor Society, and writing for the school newspaper, it's a damn struggle every single day.
I honestly don't know how I did it.
But more importantly, I told her that I was incredibly lucky.
- I wasn't addicted to drugs or alcohol.
- With the exception of PTSD, I wasn't suffering from any mental illness.
- I am blessed with a reasonable amount of intelligence.
- I was not physically or mentally abused as a child.
- I was not physically disable in any way.
- I attended good elementary, middle, and high schools and had a solid foundation in learning.
- I am white.
This last one caught many people in the audience off-guard, but it's certainly true. My struggle would have been considerably more difficult had I not been white.
- The criminal justice system would've treated me differently.
- Employers would've treated me differently.
- Professors and deans would've treated me differently.
- My fellow students would've treated me differently.
Sadly, white privilege is real. Every successful white American, regardless of their depth of their struggle and the height of their success, must acknowledge that the color of their skin helped them get where they are.
In America, a white person is born at least on first base, and in many cases, they emerge from the womb standing on second or even third. They may believe that their success is solely the fruit of their labors and the quality of their decision making, but that is nonsense.
The road is easier for a white person in America. The hills are not nearly as steep and the potholes are not nearly as deep. The roadblocks are fewer, and the pavement is smoother.
White privilege is real. Denying this is stupidity. It's the inability to see the struggles and realities of others. It's the desire to believe in the myth that hard work alone will take you anywhere, regardless of who you are.
I am standing where I am today in part because I was lucky. My blessings were many. Mental and physical health. A solid foundation in learning. Avoidance of addiction. A violence-free childhood. A capable mind.
And I am white.
This is why I love this church sign. Once you acknowledge that white privilege is real, maybe you can at least begin to make something good out of it.