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Racism In America: The Privileges of Being White



I LIVE IN THE SOUTH NOW, AFTER GROWING UP IN CALIFORNIA and then spending two careers associated with the military. There, I have heard and read things in 2013 that utterly depresses me regarding the state of race relations in America today. The epitaphs, falsehoods, and just plain ignorance freely thrown around or displayed by so many of the the people I know regarding the Blacks is ubiquitous in the South. Terms of "endearment" such as Colored or N... or "Those People" or other such denigrations are unnervingly common. And, if it is here, I have no doubt the same racism is popular everywhere you have the kind of demographic that produces such such racism. People are simply fooling themselves if they think all is fine with the world now that the Civil Rights Act is around 50 years old; I however, can tell you with certainty, it is not.

When I hear people say that Blacks in America are now free to do what they want, when they want, in whatever legal manner they want just the same as any White can are simply lying to themselves as well as others who they may be say this to; including me, here on hubpages. They are showing their ignorance as well when they tell me 1) Blacks have the same chance as I do, a white guy who started out in the middle class, all they have to do is try, and 2) while not true with my (token) Black friend, most Blacks simply want hand-outs from the government; They should learn to stand on Their own two feet for a change; with all of that free money, They shouldn't be so poor! Its like listening to the narrative in The Help; it simply pisses me off.

Having finished with that diatribe, I must observe at the same time that the Black community isn't without fault for their own situation either. I will accuse many in the White culture of ignoring or marginalizing the negative physical and mental effects on a culture which has been forced to be subservient for 90% of this Nations history and therefore their history; first openly and violently, and when that became unseemly, behind closed doors but not much less violently. Whites always skirting the letter of the Law while flat-out opposing the Laws spirit and continued to impose great emotional harm on the Black culture as a whole and as individuals.. At the same time, I lay at the Black community's feet an identical accusation, and that is of not truly understanding the same concept and not doing those things necessary to immunize themselves from those same negative attributes and taking the necessary steps to overcome them overcome them. It is all in the attitude which blossomed in the 1950s and 1960s, with amazing results ... it needs to again instead of taking a "whoa is me" position, Blacks are losing ground in America, In my opinion.

Racism in America in the 1900s






The story below is one which I lifted from the Daily Kos, it epitomizes what is still wrong with race relations in America ... and, surprisingly, Canada.

"I have a friend who for sake of brevity, I’ll call Bob.

Bob is Black. I am White. That is really our only difference

Like me, Bob is in his 50’s, seen a bit too much of life and is a little tired of what he has seen. Like me, he is married to a woman of another race, has a young daughter who he spoils and has worked hard all his life. Like me, Bob managed to go from poverty to middle class on his own.

Bob and I met through our wives, who were mutual friends and brought us together over barbecues and birthday parties. Although I’m not much of a talker, and really didn’t want anymore friends, I got to like Bob through his loud laughter, great sense of humour and shared stories.

It was through one of these stories that I learned what “White Privilege” really was.

It is a tale of two realities.

One night, I told Bob a story from my youth and my experience with the police.

It happened when I was still poor. I dressed shabbily and often went days without bathing. I didn’t have money to waste on things like laundry or hot water or clothes that weren’t torn. I got two haircuts a year, and at this time was long and unkempt as well.

One afternoon, when people were usually at work, I was walking through a downtown mall coming back from the library, when suddenly in front of me was a police officer.

He was professional enough; asked me what I doing in the mall, did I have ID, where did I live. While answering these questions, I was suddenly aware that there was another cop to my right and a third standing slightly behind to my right. They were serious, grim men, and one had his hand on his service pistol the entire time I was being questioned.

My ID was taken and handed to the cop on the left who spoke into a microphone on his shoulder, reading my name and details. The cop in front continued to question me, asking seemingly innocuous questions, such as where was I yesterday, was I sure I wasn’t on such-and-such street, did I know this particular person, etc, etc. I’m answering the questions as best I can, getting increasingly anxious. My own questions of what this about, is deflected as “just routine”, “please just answer the question Sir” replies.

Now I’m asked if I’m carrying any weapons, like a knife. I say no. Do you mind if we search you to be sure. I realize it isn’t a request and if I say I do mind, they will take that as probable cause and search me anyway. No, I have no objections. I’m against a wall, in the position. I am searched (groped it feels like), and nothing is found. Now I’m starting to freak a little. I begin to see myself in jail or worse. Still my questions aren’t answered; “we just have to be sure, please just answer the questions Sir”.

Finally, the mic cop hands back my ID to the first cop and says it checks out. The cop hands me back my ID, and tells me that there had been an incident in the neighbourhood recently and I matched the description of a man they were looking to question. I was free to go and he thanked me for my time and apologized for the inconvenience.

I later find out the “incident” was a person being knifed to death, which in Canada, even in a big city, is an event that triggers headlines.

At the end of my experience, I was shaken; a little disoriented and went straight home. A few days later I had recovered enough from the shock that I began to talk about it and gradually came to realize that the cops were just doing their jobs. When I read about the murder on such-and-such street, I realized the full story of what happened and was willing to put it down to unlucky chance on my part.

It became simply a story I now tell.

When I was finished Bob told me his story of his run-in with the police.

In actual fact, Bob is constantly stopped by the police.

You see, Bob is successful. He drives expensive cars. As a result, he is repeatedly pulled over, questioned and has to prove he owns the vehicle he is driving. But this story was much more than that.

Like me, it happened when Bob was younger, but unlike me, he was not by this time still poor. At this point in his life, he was beginning to make money and was able to buy new cars; not the luxury vehicles he drives now, but new.

At the time, a car company had a program where you could take one of their cars home with you for the weekend, drive it around for personal use and at the end of the weekend return it. I remember the ad line was something like “we’re so sure you’ll like it, you’ll want to keep it”.

Bob took advantage of this program and made all the arrangements with the local dealership. Leaving his own car with the dealer, along with copies of his driver’s license, insurance and financial details, he drove the car off the lot with dealer’s plates for the weekend.

Bob had to pick up a friend at the train station, so that Friday night, he drove to the station and had his “run-in”.

He says all of a sudden, a police cruiser raced in front of him and cut across his path. Another raced up behind and a third came to stop beside the driver side. Police poured out of the cars, guns drawn, all shouting orders for him to shut off the vehicle, put his hands where they could be seen, to open the car door and to get out of the car.

Of course none of this was said in sequence but at the same time by different officers shouting with greater levels of intensity as Bob failed to comply with all the orders at the same time.

In fear for his life, Bob finally put his hands out the window and shouted he was unarmed. At that point, the police charged, physically dragging him out of the car window and pushing him to the ground. As one officer pushed his knee into his back, another twisted his hands behind him and put on handcuffs. Bob was then pushed into the back of a police cruiser and driven to the station.

During the entire process, including the drive to the station, Bob repeatedly asked what was going on and why was he being arrested. He was told to “Shut the Fuck Up”. He gave them his name, where he lived, told them the car was being loaned by the dealership. He told them the contract and details were in the car’s glove compartment, he gave them the name of the agent who had leant him the car and offered to call the man directly. He was ignored.

Bob was booked, finger printed, photographed and tossed into a cell. He sat there from Friday night till Monday morning without a phone call, without being questioned by anyone and without being told why he had been arrested. No one knew where he was. Not his friend, stranded at the train station wondering why he didn’t show up; not his parents who hadn’t seen or heard from him all weekend and were growing increasingly worried and – especially – not the car dealership who wondered why he hadn’t returned the car on Monday morning as agreed.

On Monday at 10:30 am, an officer showed up and entered his cell to question him. Bob had never seen this officer before; he wasn’t one of the 6 officers at his arrest. The first question the officer asks is does he know why he has been arrested? No, Bob says, they haven’t told him anything.

He’s been arrested for auto theft. The vehicle he was driving was reported stolen.

Of course it was, Bob replies. It was a loaner that had to be returned by 9:00 am Monday morning. When he didn’t show up, the dealership reported it stolen.

Can he prove this?

Look in the glove compartment, the agreement is there.

The cop disappears.

Two hours later a guard comes and opens the cell. Charges have been withdrawn, he is free to go. He is given back his belongings and leaves the station. No one speaks to him during the entire process and he speaks to no one.

Bob considered filing a suit against the police for false arrest and violation of civil liberties, but the attorney he speaks to tells him bluntly, a black man suing the police is dangerous. Bob’s daughter was recently born. The lawyer tells him, Bob could be a live father, or he could likely be a dead hero. Is he sure he wants to proceed? Bob chooses to be a live father and lets the matter go.

Bob’s story in comparison to mine, defines White Privilege.

This wasn’t the Deep South United States. This was Canada. Progressive, racism free, liberal minded, Canada.

I was “Sir”, despite being unwashed and poor. My white skin and submissive attitude kept the police professional and respectful. I had no doubt that if I mouthed off or resisted their questions, or refused their search, I would have found myself face first on the pavement with a knee in my back. If I had made a gesture that suggested I had a weapon, I probably would have been killed.

But until then, I was protected by civil codes and rights and more importantly, by my skin. More importantly, I understood this. I knew I could control the situation if I just stayed calm and did nothing to provoke a violent response. I expected a certain outcome, based solely on how I behaved.

Bob had no such protection or choice. He didn’t mouth off or resist or refuse a search. He was grabbed, assaulted, arrested and tossed into a cell without any questions or any answers. He was left forgotten and ignored for two days until the next shift officer came on duty. And when the mistake was discovered, he was tossed without ever seeing the duty officer again.

This is why, I think, it is so hard for some Whites to understand the complaints of Blacks when it comes to how they are treated by the police or other authorities. In our world, how we behave, determines the outcome we get. So it is a common White refrain to say “just do what the cop tells you to do”, if you mouth off, of course you’ll get grief”. We heard much of the same with Trayvon Martin; “his parents should have taught him to simply answer questions politely instead”.

We don’t understand that for blacks there is far too often no such luxury of choice. They are guilty for just being there; for just driving an expensive car; for just what they are wearing. And the violent response all too often does not require a trigger, such as mouthing off or refusing reasonable requests. All too often the violent response is immediate, inexplicable and without provocation.

That is the reality of being White. We have choice. We have control. And should our rights or dignities as human beings be violated, we have recourse.

That is our privilege.

Fri Aug 09, 2013 at 5:37 AM PT: I woke this morning to find my diary not only on the rec list but on the community spotlight as well. I honestly didn’t expect this and I know Bob will appreciate that his experience mattered to so many here.

I am unable to answer comments but I have read them and would like to respond in a sort-a general way to some. There are those who are parsing the term “privilege”; that is fine. I look at my experience as privilege in that I know (underline, bold and in caps) that my behaviour will govern the response from police – or store clerks, security personnel, cab drivers, etc, etc. I consider that a privilege. Like any privilege, it can be taken away depending on the circumstances but it is mine to claim. I have this privilege because of my skin colour.

Bob doesn’t have this privilege. He is the same age, same gender, lives in the same neighbourhood and he is richer than I am, but is stopped by police more often, has difficulty getting a cab, is followed by security in stores and had difficulty getting service from store clerks.

I don’t feel Bob and my experiences were so much driven by racism as they were expectation. I knew what it was like to be treated with indignities because of my poverty. I could tell stories of being made to feel less of a person because I didn't have a large enough wallet or nice enough clothes. So can Bob. Such indignities are part and parcel of being poor in a capitalist country.

But where our experiences diverge is how we are treated now. Bob is not expected to be wealthy. He not expected to be successful. Every time his daughter starts a new school, his wife is asked if he is “still in the picture” and offered free “hot lunch” program information. My wife is never asked this question and is never offered information on any lunch programs that you don’t pay for. Why? The only reason we can see, is that looking at both our daughters you can see they are bi-racial and if the wife is of one race, then the father must be another.

In our respective stories, the police knew that they might have the wrong person when they stopped me. They were careful, therefore, to check the details and ask questions to be certain. I knew this too. I knew I was innocent of any crime and if I just stayed calm, polite and cooperated, I would be okay. I was scared but I knew it would be okay .

With Bob, the police just assumed he was guilty. They did not expect a young black man to be driving a new car with dealer’s plates. He MUST have stolen it; and they treated him as if he had."

Racism In America In 2005




While things are certainly better now than they were in the 1960s; it clearly is not all milk-and-honey either. You can find stories like Bob's in every state in the Union, probably even Hawaii. Studies have shown, fortunately, that unlike the generations before us, Gen X is actually showing broad signs of toleration ... that finally, in America, maybe, just maybe, we are turning the corner of our 200+ years of institutional racism. We have several more generations to go, however, before racism in America drops to a low roar and Blacks, as well as other minorities, have an equal chance for the American Dream.




This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2014 Scott Belford


Scott Belford (author) from Keystone Heights, FL on October 04, 2020:

You will not find any disagreement from me, Afolabi. Donald Trump has set race relations in America back many decades, probably not to the 1950s, but close.

Thank you for reading this old but still timely article and commenting on it.

Afolabi Abraham Kuye from Lagos, Nigeria on October 03, 2020:

In the whole narrative of racism, in my opinion, America is only going backward with their racist mentality, the world is looking to America as leader of the world and if this still continue unabated, all i can conclude is that America is going primitive...

Sanxuary on January 16, 2018:

Scroll to Continue

Every once in a while I consider writing an article on here. The one I would write tonight is why do white people think I am a Racist because I am white? They walk in and start making racist comments like I agree. Did it ever occur to them that I might not approve and that they are not in the right place. I have become intolerate to stupidity. If you have a real discussion with real facts I have no issues. There are no facts to being a racist. Regardless of race evil people do evil things. Like the crazy fake news crowd I make them think. My column would be how do you stop a racist in his tracks when they assume you our a racist like them. I tell them my parents are black but they adopted me any way. My wife is black and are children are beautiful. A black person saved my life and I dont hate him. or ask thought provoking quetions? What if you die and are reborn black, will you hate white people? What if this country becomes a dictatorship and hates whatever you our, where will you live? Most Jews were never black how come they never picked your race to exterminate. When a disaster happens and your stuck in the wrong neighborhood should they help you survive? They never think about these things because they think they are priveledged. I am sure that we can come up with more things that will make them think.

bradmasterOC on November 20, 2014:

My Esoteric

I can hardly wait for your hub on the decision in Ferguson?

bradmaster on November 20, 2014:

Just checking in, no problem

Scott Belford (author) from Keystone Heights, FL on September 08, 2014:

Yeah, it is so at odds with the ideals on which this country is based, isn't it.

G from Illinois on September 08, 2014:

To me, Trayvon looked like a sweet boy. He smiled on a pic I saw broadcast. Not a typical thug action.

It is so sad that he died the way he did.

Simply typical phenomenon? I think so.

The story of your friend sounds familiar. We hear it repeated, in different forms, on a regular basis.

One down! :)

Scott Belford (author) from Keystone Heights, FL on August 23, 2014:

Didn't answer the question, why didn't trayvon's skin save him?

Scott Belford (author) from Keystone Heights, FL on August 23, 2014:

Why wasn't it for Trayvon, the boy Zimmerman murdered and got away with because of a Florida law designed for that purpose and effectively can only be used by whites? Why, because in Florida, you are a hero if you carry a gun but arrested if you are black.

junko on August 18, 2014:

As a White skinned man big daddy, you can open carry in many places in America and not fear being killed, to protect and serve White people from you. If you were Micheal Brown age 18 but not in black skin but white skin your mother and dad would get more justice and information. In black skin you can't walk where ever you want, its only safe for black skin men to walk in the hood other tha_______n other's neighborhoods. I believe White Privilege has blinded you and you can't handle being black if being white is a disadvantage for you. Are you trying to make light of black or just letting your light shine?

Scott Belford (author) from Keystone Heights, FL on August 18, 2014:

While there might be some merit to #1 and 2, @Big Daddy, I am guessing you are blessing us with a strong dose of sarcasm.

Scott Belford (author) from Keystone Heights, FL on February 01, 2014:

Thank you Kathleen. For me, it was a bit of a shock, for I grew up in various parts of California, then spent 20 years working in and around the Pentagon and the military. Coming to Florida opened my eyes to the real world of race relations, or lack thereof. I am glad to see things have improved from where you sit.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on February 01, 2014:

I'm encouraged by my children's generation that seems to be making huge strides in bridging the gaps between so many groups, not even just racial ones.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on February 01, 2014:

As someone who has lived in the south for the majority of her life, I can tell you things have changed a great deal, and at the same time, not nearly enough. From my own experiences I believe the change has come most profoundly by the contributions being made to the benefit of everyone by a larger and larger percentage of minorities of all subsets of our society. Prejudice seems to be hurled most often at groups who are perceived not to contribute to society but take a toll on the common good.

You hit the nail on the head when you said "in America, maybe, just maybe, we are turning the corner of our 200+ years of institutional racism. We have several more generations to go, however, before racism in America drops to a low roar".

Scott Belford (author) from Keystone Heights, FL on January 31, 2014:

I appreciate it Theresa.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on January 31, 2014:

Excellent and understandable first person experience which indicates the difference that "white privilege" or "being white" makes in a person's life.

Thank you for sharing this. Clearly, and in so many ways, we have not come nearly as far as we would like to think we have. Tragic, for black preople of course, but actually for all of us. Sharing. Theresa

junko on January 23, 2014:

The decendents of black slaves after hundreds of years of slavery and over a hundred years of State supported Institutional Racism is still considered Sub-human by those who protect and serve. The thirty years of affirmitive action between the 1960's and the 1990's before the Southern Strategy lead by Ronald Reagan, was too short of time to change the Negro's position in the New World. The door was closed and renewed resentment of African American added fuel to the fire of racism. Racism is the Trojan Horse that will , if not eliminated cause the fall of America.

Credence2 from Florida (Space Coast) on January 23, 2014:

Greetings, ME, I am glad that I got the opportunity to read this article. As a African-American male, I think that I can provide information to buttress your article. As we always said when I was a kid, 'down south, up south'. As for Hawaii, what is different is that whites are distinctly in the minority and with the noted exception of their economic advantage, other advantages traditionally associated with privilege are conspicuously absent, cultural and social for example. Often times, being white can be a disadvantage. When people see me their reaction is not automatically negative, as with a reflex.

I spent a couple of weeks in the South and I did not have any problems, but of course, that is not living there. Are things still so bad there as far as race relations? What ever became of the 'New South"?

If you really want to know from a guy that has been in the fray first hand, please have a look at these articles which I penned a couple of years ago.

It was a problem for me that there had to be some bias. If I were a 17 year old kid coming home from the market, I would be concerned about some creepy guy following me around, not identifying himself nor wearing a uniform associated with a law enforcement officer. So, who gave any consideration to the right of self-defense for Trayvon Martin? Just like Bob, he was automatically assumed to be guilty without any evidence of substantive basis for that position.

I don't know, perhaps it is human nature for us all to be at odds like this, but I hoped that we could have evolved beyond it.... Great article, thanks!

Scott Belford (author) from Keystone Heights, FL on January 22, 2014:

Thanks HS, I wish it were behind closed doors, but down here, it is pretty out in the open.

Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on January 22, 2014:

Excellent analysis, My Esoteric. I agree that the newer generations are becoming increasingly tolerant regarding race and other hot button identities. But racial epithets are still common in many areas and not just the South. One simply only hears them behind closed doors.

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