Checking my Privilege

I grew up in a small town in Northeast Ohio where 98.1 percent of the population is white. The most diversity I have had up until college was the one African American student I graduated with in my class of almost 400. My university’s track record is not much better.

I have lived my life in a little white bubble. However, I had the absolute privilege of joining the African American Alliance and Social Justice groups from my university as they marched from East Cleveland to the Lake Erie lakeshore to protest police brutality.  This “All in Again” march and rally changed the way that I view diversity and my approach to the Black Lives Matter movement.The route I took to the meeting point took me down Superior Avenue. As the numbers of the crossroads neared and entered the fifties, I began to feel afraid. I was in the area where most of the news reports of shootings and thefts took place, the area that my father warns me not to go to. An area that was predominantly African American. I was in a car, with people in cars beside me going about their daily business, and yet I was terrified to stop at a red light.

Why in the world was I scared? The people around me did not care about me anymore than they cared about the other random people driving their cars. They probably didn’t even notice I was there.

When in my life did I learn that I was to be afraid of being a white woman alone in a predominately black area? Who taught me?

The fear I felt seems ludicrous to me now, but in the moment it didn’t seem all that silly. Once I met up with the other protestors, all of a sudden  I felt safe. Why did I feel safe with this group of predominantly black people, yet when I was enclosed in my car, I was terrified?

As we began to march towards the picturesque Cleveland skyline, the protestors started chanting.

“We need peace in our streets,” they chanted.

I have never known a place where I did not feel safe walking at any time during the day.

“No justice, no peace,” they chanted.

I have never known a place where I did not feel like justice was in place. I have never been in a situation where I felt that I did not get a fair punishment.

“Hey, Hey. Ho, Ho. These killer cops have got to go,” they chanted.

Have I ever felt threatened by the police in my hometown?

“One hundred and thirty-seven  shots? How do you justify that?” they chanted.

This chant was referring to the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were killed by Cleveland Police officers in 2012 after leading police on a nighttime car chase. 137 shots were fired by six police officers that night. If I, being blonde-haired, blue-eyed and light skinned, and had been evading police that night, would they have fired 137 shots? Would they have even fired one?

I talked to others who were protesting. Some of the people that I talked to had lost friends to black on black violence or had been victims themselves of racial profiling. They all told me how important this was for them to march, because they believed that their mission was something worth fighting for. They believed that a change was needed. 

As we marched, horns honked from the street in support. A man standing outside of a store gave us fist bumps. A woman, walking down Euclid Avenue and minding her own business, raised up her fist in the air, reminiscent of a black power pose, silently advocating for our chants.

Being a part of this movement made me question my own white privilege and my own racial biases. Why did I feel scared driving in East Cleveland? Would I ever see some of the things that these people have seen, like a friend dying or being pulled over simply because of the color of their skin? Would a cop ever kill me with 137 bullets fired into my car because I am white?

Before the march, I was in support of the Black Lives Matter movement simply because I believed that what they were saying was true. It made sense to me that people of all colors, creeds and races should be treated equally. However, I did not know the extent to which I was partaking in the very behavior that they were trying to change.

I avoid eye contact and shy away when I am alone and see a black person walking towards me. I don’t know why I do it, but I do. I don’t always stop my friends or family from using the n-word. I fail constantly in acting on my own philosophies and what I tell others to do when it comes to race.

I am flawed, but I will get better. I will do more to address my own racial biases and tendencies. I will work harder to be an ally instead of part of the problem. It won’t be easy, but I believe that I can do it. I will work hard. 

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Dear Mr. Trump

Today, I am scared.

Today, the future that I once looked towards in a rose-colored lens turned dark and uncertain.

Today, Donald Trump effectively secured the Republican nomination.

I am not a Republican and I am not a Democrat, so this is not one of those politically-charged posts where I rant on and on about how much better my candidate is than the other. In fact, I don’t truly support anyone anymore.

But you, Mr. Trump, are the only one that makes me truly fearful for the future.

Mr. Trump,  for months now I have watched you bully your way to the top. I have watched you stomp on other nationalities, genders, races, and thoughts in order to give yourself power. I have watched you degrade other human beings to the level of insects with your words and actions.

I have read everything. I have read everything in support of you and in opposition of you. I have watched every debate and primary, and I have listened to all of your speeches. Now it is my turn to speak.

I am tired of you saying nothing. I am tired of you saying words that have no basis or background or reasoning, simply because they sound decent and elicit applause.

You and I have blatantly different points of view, but that is not my point. You are a bully, and I do not like bullies very much.

I love America. I sing the national anthem and pray for our troops and hold my hand over my heart when I say the pledge of allegiance.

You do not represent the America that I love.

You represent the ugliest, most profane part of America. You build walls instead of bridges and spew hate when you should be spreading love. You focus on all the bad in the world and thrive in it instead of searching for the good and working towards a better place. You are so ignorant of anything that could not possibly involve you that you ignore the people that you are stepping on.

I firmly believe that you started this campaign as a publicity stunt, and once you got a taste of power, it consumed you. It filled you like a drug and began to dictate your actions. And now that you have a taste of it, you can’t stop.

The America I love would have never even thought of you as a president. But the America I love is not the one that is voting you. You have fed off of the fear and hate that has been boiling in our country. You harnessed it and nourished it like a prized pig until you had a cult surrounding you, screaming for you and fighting in your name.

You advocate violence and hatred, two things that the America I love would never stand for.

I usually see the best in people, but I am having a really hard time seeing the best in you.

I don’t know how to stop you, but trust me when I say this:

I damn sure am going to try.