Recognition of privileges, opportunities is crucial

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A protester is arrested while walking down the street on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday. On Aug. 9, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton)
A protester is arrested while walking down the street on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday. On Aug. 9, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton)

When I was a freshman, I took a UGS class called "So You Think That's Black Dance?" and one of the topics we discussed was white privilege. The articulation of this concept was pretty foreign to me, so after I read our assigned reading, Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," I began taking a closer look at various opportunities in my life that I have often taken for granted. Some of these opportunities are because I happened to be born into a middle-class family in a suburban town, but some of the specific references in McIntosh’s essay (which I acknowledge isn't perfect, but is still important) point out that I am also privileged because of the color of my skin.

I have never had to worry about anyone thinking less of me because of the way I look, and my accomplishments aren't noted as "a credit to my race.” I'm not saying that people who have this privilege should feel guilt, but recognizing this unfairness is the first step to ensuring it begins to diminish, because it shows very few signs of doing so now, and this isn’t right.

The protests and riots that the Michael Brown case evoked are a stark illustration of the reality that is this world, no matter how much people try to ignore it. Racial tensions, while they aren’t as pronounced as in the past, very obviously still exist, and people can't just accept that. Why not listen to the people protesting rather than dismissing them, and try to begin to understand their point of view? Our society prides itself on listening to opposing viewpoints, until those viewpoints are too contrary to what we want to believe. Striving toward a society in which everyone is born with the same opportunities is unrealistic, but that’s no reason to ignore the fact that some people are treated unfairly for no good reason, and a crucial step in fixing this is simply listening.

Voeller is an associate editor.