Male privilege: Last semester, I accidentally bought 40 virtual bus tickets. To use them all before they expired, I would take evening strolls downtown in solitude, fearless of being catcalled or harassed. I would gaze at the colossal skyscrapers, my nostalgia evoked by the industrial scent and techno light beams emitted around the Staples Center.
Class and white privilege: I come from a suburb in Albuquerque, N.M. referred to as the “Northeast Heights,” otherwise dubbed the “Northeast Whites.” My high school had a reputation for having well-off students and a cocaine problem. I never have to worry about paying for meals or next month’s rent. I attend one of the best universities in the world because I worked hard and had access to resources that made my path to success feasible.
Privilege. It is one of the most hot-button topics of discussion today, especially in a country experiencing escalating racial tensions. These tensions came to the media forefront once again when Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was gunned down nearly three months ago while jogging in a suburb in Glynn County, Ga. The suspects were not arrested until early May, following national uproar over the lack of action taken by the Glynn County Police Department. Meanwhile, state-issued lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus are prompting armed protests in states such as Michigan, where demonstrators are comparing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to Adolf Hitler.
These juxtaposing protests drive a double-edged sword through the heart of America — one side is demanding justice for the unlawful racial profiling and murder of a Black man while the other is employing white supremacy to protest stay-at-home orders. This paradox reflects systemic privilege; one response tackles it while the other abuses and perpetuates it.
Police-involved shootings have reflected this persisting clash for the past decade, birthing the #BlackLivesMatter movement as well as its #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter counterparts. From “Dateline NBC” to the release of the “The Hate U Give” book and film, racial profiling and violence within the police force have garnered massive scrutiny from the media. Notably, back in 2012, neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter the following year.
I remember being outraged by the murder, even more so by the acquittal. This outrage was rehashed in February, when Zimmerman filed a defamation lawsuit against former presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg for their unjust framing of Zimmerman as a white supremacist and perpertrator of gun violence in their remembrance tweets on Martin’s 25th birthday. Zimmerman also sued Martin’s family for defamation.
My outrage at these situations prompted me to rethink my perception of privilege. It brought me back to a “Saturday Night Live” sketch following the 2016 presidential election in which a group of white, liberal, anti-Trump friends watch the election’s live results with Chris Martin and Dave Chappelle. As the night progresses, the white friends become visibly upset and angry as it becomes more apparent that Hillary Clinton is going to lose. Meanwhile, Martin and Chapelle remain cynical and ostensibly less irate.
This “SNL” sketch comments on race relations, but it also highlights the way we react to injustice reflects privilege, too. The white people in the “SNL” sketch have the privilege of being more idealistic because their experience is different from the Black experience. My experience growing up white sculpted the way I perceive society and engage with social issues.
My outrage stemmed from passion for justice, but it also came from a place of high expectations, where my privilege paved a gap between my optimism and reality. This privilege can be acknowledged and used to craft allyship. The national outcry for Ahmaud Arbery, in addition to other victims of racist murders, demonstrates a constructive use of privilege. Those in more advantaged positions can use their voices for those unable to.
The white privilege on display in Michigan, on the other hand, conveys a failure to acknowledge privilege in its nuanced forms. Being able to quarantine under a roof is class privilege. Being able to protest in a public space with assault rifles without being arrested or killed is white privilege. Being healthy while other people are dying is a privilege in and of itself. Ultimately, privilege is toxic when it perpetuates injustice instead of helping to combat it.
My experiences follow a different narrative than others’, and so do yours. I can write this piece in remembrance of Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin because I am fortunate enough to be in good health and still be able to write. My privilege and your privilege can both be assets. We must use them to advocate for those who cannot do so alone.
Matthew Eck is a rising junior writing about culturally relevant social issues. His column, “The Eck’s Factor,” runs every other Wednesday.