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My Life as a Non-threat
One of the key things to cultivating compassion for others is understanding the positions of privilege each of us may or may not have. Privilege is culturally relevant, so one privilege may not mean much in one place, but in another, it may give you an advantage. In the U.S.A., being male is a privilege. Having white skin is a privilege. And coming from a middle-class background is yet another privilege. Safe to say, I grew up in one of the most privileged positions one can in the West.
But I was not aware of my privilege for many years. As a person with privilege, the toughest thing to wrap your head around is where that privilege ends and begins, mainly because you never get to experience not having it. So it becomes easy to believe that your struggles and situational outcomes are the same as other people's. But if these people you are thinking of do not have the same level of privilege as you, both the obstacles and outcomes can be very different. When I learned about my own privileges, my whole world view changed.
For example, when I was 14, a friend and I ignited a firework in an alley. It was a little smoke 'bomb,' the kind you get at the fireworks stands all up and down I-95. And just as the smoke started billowing, I saw a police car drive past the alley and swerve around, barrelling towards us. 'Oh shit,' I thought to myself, as the cop slammed on the brakes and jumped out. "Freeze!" the officer said, about 100 feet from us, standing with her arms over the car door, her gun aimed at us.
This story ended up not being a big deal: My friend and I walked away that day with a warning. In an effort to explain why she had aimed her gun at two 14-year-olds, the officer told us she thought we were breaking into a neighbouring jewellery store. But I realized by reading statistics of officer-involved shootings, that if our skin had been darker, we may have never lived to tell the story. Even if we hadn't been shot, we probably would have been charged with possession of an illegal explosive, as fireworks in Virginia are illegal.
But this story is just one of a three or four times I've had cops aim their guns at me. Each time, I walked away unharmed. I used to think that the reason for that was that I had treated the officer with respect, following their commands. But when I read more cases of folks being shot by police, I realized that perhaps the reason I actually lived was because of my privileges. The officers interpreted me as a non-threat: white and middle-class.
I'm not sure how to fix the biases lent towards privilege. But I do believe the best step is to come to understand the privileges that each of us have—whether it's skin color, sex, gender, social class, education level, physical ability, or anything else that can affect how folks treat us. We must try to have a realistic understanding of differences in privilege and realize that, in many cases, perception is reality.
#Real #Privilege #PersonalMemory #SkinColor #Sex #Gender #SocialClass #SocialJustice #SocialIssues #Activism #Humankind
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