Growing up, I spent much of my life in settings that were predominately white. The members at my church were mainly white. My public schooling was largely Caucasian. The neighborhoods I grew up in were mostly white. My childhood experience was that of a typical white male, born to middle-class evangelical parents in the twentieth century American South.
Boys Will Be Boys
As far as I was concerned, my experience was the same as all or at least most other boys. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I began to learn that my childhood experiences were a product of privilege my skin color afforded.
My (white) friends and I played with air-soft (fake) guns at the park all the time. But we were never so much as approached by a cop for our behavior (privilege of the white neighborhood). My parents and I never had a conversation about how to act if approached by a police officer (privilege). I’ve never had someone avoid my presence because I look “scary” (privilege). I received a great adolescent education which prepared and allowed me to attend an institution of higher learning (privilege).
Like most young males, I made extremely foolish choices and I’m ashamed of the things I did as a child and teenager: Trespassing, vandalism, theft, assault and malicious mischief. But most of these incidents were basically chalked up to: “Well, boys will be boys.”
By no means do I blame my parents; they provided the best they could for me and I was always punished according to my crime! But none of the incidents listed legally resulted in anything more than a speech by a police officer, encouraging us to make smarter decisions. I’m very thankful for the multitude of mercies those officers bestowed. But now I can’t help but wonder why.
BB Guns and the Civil Rights
Astonishingly, there is a legal caveat to this familiar statement about young men. “Boys will be boys”, but only if those boys are white. I played with BB guns in the park and I definitely walked down the street with a knife. Tragically, the “boys will be boys” shield didn’t protect Tamir Rice and Laquan McDonald as it did me.
It’s a horrifying reality that many of the structural systems of our country love and value whiteness first (and only). Two centuries of government sanctioned chattel slavery and a century of Jim Crow oppression are systemic wounds that cannot all be mended 50 years post Civil Rights.
Huffington Post writer Bob Cesca explains, “Even after the slaves were freed, the effort to reconstruct the nation led to the North and South agreeing upon a common enemy to blame for the war and the subsequent hardships it caused: black people became a national scapegoat as society embraced the Lost Cause Mythology and the absolution of the South for seceding.”
Privilege and Burden
I write all this to encourage my white privileged brothers and sisters to assess all that the Lord has blessed you with and to stand in solidarity with those who’ve experienced marginalization and oppression. Subtle acts are wonderful and essential, but it’s time to publicly take a stand.
Do not be fooled; taking this stance will come with sacrifice. It may strain relationships, make you uncomfortable and blot your reputation. Yet the Lord Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
I believe Ekemini Uwan sums it best: “Bearing the burdens of another is the ultimate imitation of Jesus, our supreme burden bearer who carried our burdens until He breathed his last. Brothers and sisters, surely you can lay down your privilege in order to stand with and defend us when we are attacked by fellow Christians.”