Response to Character as the Basis of Privilege post
By Parthenia Queen on May 13, 2014
I recently read a post by a young man from Princeton titled Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege. He very arrogantly ended his piece with “I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.”
Let me start by revealing some of my character. I am a Black woman, age 53. I am a single parent of 1 child and grandparent of 1 child. I served in the U.S. Air Force and received my training as a computer programmer and analyst specialist. Prior to the Air Force, I completed 2 years of college. Afterwards, I completed an additional 2 years of college taking classes to stay current for work at my own expense. I’ve never been arrested. My son has been arrested once for speeding from Iowa to Chicago to try to make the birth of his daughter, sadly, he didn't make it for her birth. I am not a drug addict or alcoholic or gang member, nor is my son. I have worked the same job as a computer programmer/analyst for 27 years and same profession for 32 years. While things have not been easy for me, I have worked very hard to get where I am and nothing was just given to me or any of my family and friends. If character was a basis of privilege, I would be, but due to the color of my skin, I most definitely am not privileged, not by U.S. standards.
I don’t ask that he apologize for anything, but suggest he go back and reexamine privilege and the privileges he has using a criteria to do so.
Education is key, but rather than tracing his personal history to justify his assertion of having checked his privilege, I’d like him to spend some time tracing United States history. Not the whitewashed version but the down and dirty stuff.
I challenge him to look at slavery and its propensity for horror and trauma. Review chattel slavery’s history of rape, molestation, mutilation, physical abuse, child abuse, sex slaves, forced labor and dehumanization (reducing people to the status of cow, dog, cat or chair) of an entire people and how it not only affects them and their descendants, but also the behavior and beliefs of other citizens and their descendants that encounter them (Blacks) as a result of being subjected to abiding by the governmental discriminations. During this study, understand and remember that this was a governmental law and some people are still having a problem letting some of it go. (Remember, slaves didn’t have therapist and neither did their children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.)
Understand that after slavery was over, the law allowed Whites to effectively continue slavery through sharecropping, a process that rarely allowed the sharecropper to get out of debt.
Review the red summer of 1919, Black wall street, or Rosewood and as you study these events, remember the Black people that were murdered in these events never found justice. Both their police departments and military not only participated in the abuse and murder of Black people, they made no effort to arrest anyone for the attacks; also remember, those very same Black people were paying the same taxes as Whites.
Take the time to review the history of lynching in the United States. As you review this history, remember that up until the 1960s, it was a rarity that a lynching was investigated. No one cared that Black people were being murdered other than other Black people. The police did not serve and protect the people that were lynched or their families. The police did not investigate the crime and sometimes participated in the lynching of its Black citizens.
Take a good hard look at Jim Crow laws which were the law of the land from the 1880s to the 1960s. For example there was actually a law that stated it shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race. The government did not want Blacks & Whites to be within 2 blocks of one another. There were also laws that made it “unlawful” to sell Black people houses in certain areas; my first house, up until the 1960s civil rights act, it was against the LAW to sell that house to Black people (me, 1st Black owner of the home).