I live in a predominately white—no—an extremely white community, where most belong to the middle or upper-class. I grew up with friends who lived off of Lake Michigan, whose mothers didn’t have to work, and whose fathers were always traveling for business. I grew up with friends whose parents were the sheriff, city council members, local business owners.
Now, while there are some exceptions—like for example, people who don’t live quite as well off, meaning instead of their parents making over $100,000, they make $75,000; or people who don’t live on the lake, but rather the neighborhood right next to it. And as the same time, perhaps there is a poor family who has been struggling, but I’ve never heard of it or seen it. In all my years of living here, people seem to be happy and well off.
But then I went to New York this past weekend, and for once, I understood what they meant when they taught us in elementary and middle school that America is the “melting pot of the world”. Growing up, the melting pot phrase meant to include those kids who were adopted from places like South Korea or China; it meant including the one or two black kids, and knowing their family can live the American Dream, too; it meant even if there are a few people who aren’t white in our community, we should let them live here and do what we do, too. Just because they only have one parent who is white, doesn’t mean they aren’t special, like you and me.
In NYC, for the first time in my life, I felt like a minority. But more than feeling like it, I was the minority. My taxi driver was Middle Eastern, the receptionist at the hotel was black, the street venders were Hispanic, Arabic, Asian—any nationality and race except white. I heard languages that I couldn’t understand. I was surrounded by crowds of people and I couldn’t see very many white people in the mix. I remember at one point on the trip thinking to myself, “Where are all the white people?”
And then I looked up.
I saw the skyscrapers that covered the entire city and I found my answer. The white people are working up there, away from the loud, dirty, crowded streets. I was overwhelmed because I realized I was living in the midst of white privilege.
While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, the black men on the street have to deal with people clutching their bags close to their sides as they pass them. They have to deal with people who see a black man wearing a wife beater and wonder if they’ll attack them. They have to deal with the people who still call them “colored people” and who would prefer they not be around them on the subway, store, or sidewalk.
While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, the Middle Eastern men and women have to deal with people looking in fear of them being terrorists. Middle Eastern women have to deal with people looking at their head coverings and thinking they are Muslim extremists. They have to deal with people who think that they only sell fake things on the street, like knock off bags, watches that don’t work, or things that aren’t truly worth the face value, in order to scam you.
While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, the homeless men and women have to deal with people who think they’ll only bum their money on booze and cigarettes. They have to deal with people who won’t even look at them because they don’t treat them as equal human beings. They have to deal with people who see them as waste in the street.
While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, young black teens try to fight their way through impoverished schools and a poorly structured education system. Teens who aren’t white are told to find jobs that aren’t ambitious or what “successful white people do”. They are treated like second class, unequal, different. While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, the rest of the world tries to find their place. They try to break free from social preconceptions, racial stereotypes, and socioeconomic status.
As a white young adult, I find myself unknowingly experiencing white privilege.
I always expected to get the best education, with a national ranking. I always expected that I’d go to college. That my parents credit cards would always be accepted, that somehow money would always find its way to our hands. I always expected to be treated with respect and without any stereotypical views. I can travel without TSA doing a double check on me. People trust my cash isn’t counterfeit. I can walk down the street and people aren’t afraid of my next action. The list goes on and on of all the advantages I have by the color of my skin. But as I’m getting older, I’m realizing it is not only selfish but it is dehumanizing to accept my white privilege without caring about everyone else.
I believe in equality.
I believe that everyone should have the same opportunities. I don’t think being white should make an employer like you more than if you were black. I don’t think being white should guarantee you anything in life. As an American, I believe in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. I believe that I should be able to pursue what I want and love in any way possible as long as it doesn’t sacrifice my inalienable rights or any other human’s inalienable rights. I believe that my fellow Americans of different races and nationalities should be guaranteed Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, too, because isn’t that what the United States of America is all about?
In school we daily pledged allegiance to the flag, we stated that there’s “Liberty and Justice for all.” But I look around, and I see so much injustice, I see the liberty of others being sacrificed. “For All” doesn’t mean all the whites; “For All” doesn’t mean the people with a clean background; “For All” doesn’t mean the people with money, or high paying jobs. “For All” means equality. It means everyone that is an American. It means the black single parents. It means the struggling Syrian immigrants. It means the adopted children who were taken out of poorly structured governments in impoverished nations. “For All” means every single person in the United States of America. The ones who all pledge allegiance to the flag. The ones who live to chase the American Dream.
I believe black men should be able to interact with white policemen without a fear of violence. I believe Middle Eastern Muslims should be able to interact with White Protestants without the fear of religious outrage. I believe we should all be able to interact with one another and see that we are all the same—human beings navigating through this thing we call life.
I want to talk with people and hear their experiences in life. I want to hear how a black, Hispanic, Asian, or any race lives life. I want to know about their struggles, their setbacks and limitations; I want to experience life with them; to show them that not every white person believes in white supremacy. Because beneath my skin I’m built the same as anyone else.
What is the point of life if we cannot connect with one another?
I’m not asking for us to be color blind, for that only adds to the problem. I’m asking that we, collectively as human beings, push aside stereotypes or prejudice and get to know each other as fellow Americans, fellow humans, and fellow friends. That we become people who are interested in learning about different cultures, who want to understand everyone else who resides on this earth.
I will not go another day knowing that I have it better off than someone solely based on something petty like my color. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew what he was saying in his “I Have A Dream” speech when he declares, “[I hope my children]…will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Life is about community, not segregation, supremacy, or hate. It’s about time we truly evaluate what we think we deserve in life and why.