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My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be Honest

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My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be Honest
He wanted to know how institutional racism has made an impact on my life. I’m glad he asked, because I was ready to answer.

Lori Lakin Hutcherson posted Sep 08, 2017



Yesterday I was tagged in a post by an old high school friend asking me and a few others a very public, direct question about white privilege and racism. I feel compelled not only to publish his query, but also my response to it, as it may be a helpful discourse for more than just a few folks on Facebook.
Here’s his post:

To all of my Black or mixed race FB friends, I must profess a blissful ignorance of this “White Privilege” of which I’m apparently guilty of possessing. By not being able to fully put myself in the shoes of someone from a background/race/religion/gender/nationality/body type that differs from my own makes me part of the problem, according to what I’m now hearing. Despite my treating everyone with respect and humor my entire life (as far as I know), I’m somehow complicit in the misfortune of others. I’m not saying I’m colorblind, but whatever racism/sexism/other -ism my life experience has instilled in me stays within me, and is not manifested in the way I treat others (which is not the case with far too many, I know).

So that I may be enlightened, can you please share with me some examples of institutional racism that have made an indelible mark upon you? If I am to understand this, I need people I know personally to show me how I’m missing what’s going on. Personal examples only. I’m not trying to be insensitive, I only want to understand (but not from the media). I apologize if this comes off as crass or offends anyone.
Here’s my response:

Hi, Jason. First off, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted your post and made it part of mine. I think the heart of what you’ve asked of your friends of color is extremely important and I think my response needs much more space than as a reply on your feed. I truly thank you for wanting to understand what you are having a hard time understanding. Coincidentally, over the last few days I have been thinking about sharing some of the incidents of prejudice/racism I’ve experienced in my lifetime—in fact I just spoke with my sister Lesa about how to best do this yesterday—because I realized many of my friends—especially the white ones—have no idea what I’ve experienced/dealt with unless they were present (and aware) when it happened. There are two reasons for this: 1) because not only as a human being do I suppress the painful and uncomfortable in an effort to make it go away, I was also taught within my community (I was raised in the ’70s and ’80s—it’s shifted somewhat now) and by society at large NOT to make a fuss, speak out, or rock the boat. To just “deal with it,” lest more trouble follow (which, sadly, it often does); 2) fear of being questioned or dismissed with “Are you sure that’s what you heard?” or “Are you sure that’s what they meant?” and being angered and upset all over again by well-meaning-but-hurtful and essentially unsupportive responses.
White privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed.​
So, again, I’m glad you asked, because I really want to answer. But as I do, please know a few things first: 1) This is not even close to the whole list. I’m cherry-picking because none of us have all day; 2) I’ve been really lucky. Most of what I share below is mild compared to what others in my family and community have endured; 3) I’m going to go in chronological order so you might begin to glimpse the tonnage and why what many white folks might feel is a “where did all of this come from?” moment in society has been festering individually and collectively for the LIFETIME of pretty much every black or brown person living in America today, regardless of wealth or opportunity; 4) Some of what I share covers sexism, too—intersectionality is another term I’m sure you’ve heard and want to put quotes around, but it’s a real thing too, just like white privilege. But you’ve requested a focus on personal experiences with racism, so here it goes:

1. When I was 3, my family moved into an upper-middle-class, all-white neighborhood. We had a big backyard, so my parents built a pool. Not the only pool on the block, but the only one neighborhood boys started throwing rocks into. White boys. One day my mom ID’d one as the boy from across the street, went to his house, told his mother, and, fortunately, his mother believed mine. My mom not only got an apology, but also had that boy jump in our pool and retrieve every single rock. No more rocks after that. Then mom even invited him to come over to swim sometime if he asked permission. Everyone became friends. This one has a happy ending because my mom was and is badass about matters like these, but I hope you can see that the white privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed, made to feel unwelcome, or prone to acts of vandalism and hostility.

2. When my older sister was 5, a white boy named Mark called her a “nigger” after she beat him in a race at school. She didn’t know what it meant, but in her gut she knew it was bad. This was the first time I’d seen my father the kind of angry that has nowhere to go. I somehow understood it was because not only had some boy verbally assaulted his daughter and had gotten away with it, it had way too early introduced her (and me) to that term and the reality of what it meant—that some white people would be cruel and careless with black people’s feelings just because of our skin color. Or our achievement. If it’s unclear in any way, the point here is if you’ve never had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.
I remember some white male classmates were pissed that a black classmate had gotten into UCLA while they didn’t.​
3. Sophomore year of high school. I had Mr. Melrose for Algebra 2. Some time within the first few weeks of class, he points out that I’m “the only spook” in the class. This was meant to be funny. It wasn’t. So, I doubt it will surprise you I was relieved when he took medical leave after suffering a heart attack and was replaced by a sub for the rest of the semester. The point here is, if you’ve never been ‘the only one’ of your race in a class, at a party, on a job, etc. and/or it’s been pointed out in a “playful” fashion by the authority figure in said situation, you have white privilege.

4. When we started getting our college acceptances senior year, I remember some white male classmates were pissed that a black classmate had gotten into UCLA while they didn’t. They said that affirmative action had given him “their spot” and it wasn’t fair. An actual friend of theirs. Who’d worked his ass off. The point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it,” you have white privilege.

5. When I got accepted to Harvard (as a fellow AP student, you were witness to what an academic beast I was in high school, yes?), three separate times I encountered white strangers as I prepped for my maiden trip to Cambridge that rankle to this day. The first was the white doctor giving me a physical at Kaiser:

Me: “I need to send an immunization report to my college so I can matriculate.”​
Doctor: “Where are you going?”​
Me: “Harvard.”​
Doctor: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”​
The second was in a store, looking for supplies I needed from Harvard’s suggested “what to bring with you” list.​
Store employee: “Where are you going?”​
Me: “Harvard.”​
Store employee: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”​

The third was at UPS, shipping off boxes of said “what to bring” to Harvard. I was in line behind a white boy mailing boxes to Princeton and in front of a white woman sending her child’s boxes to wherever.

Woman to the boy: “What college are you going to?” Boy: “Princeton.”​
Woman: “Congratulations!”​
Woman to me: “Where are you sending your boxes?” Me: “Harvard.”​
Woman: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”​
I think: “No, bitch, the one downtown next to the liquor store.” But I say, gesturing to my LABELED boxes: “Yes, the one in Massachusetts.”
Then she says congratulations, but it’s too fucking late. The point here is, if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, you have white privilege.

6. In my freshman college tutorial, our small group of 4–5 was assigned to read Thoreau, Emerson, Malcolm X, Joseph Conrad, Dreiser, etc. When it was the week to discuss The Autobiography of Malcolm X, one white boy boldly claimed he couldn’t even get through it because he couldn’t relate and didn’t think he should be forced to read it. I don’t remember the words I said, but I still remember the feeling—I think it’s what doctors refer to as chandelier pain—as soon as a sensitive area on a patient is touched, they shoot through the roof—that’s what I felt. I know I said something like my whole life I’ve had to read “things that don’t have anything to do with me or that I relate to” but I find a way anyway because that’s what learning is about—trying to understand other people’s perspectives. The point here is—the canon of literature studied in the United States, as well as the majority of television and movies, have focused primarily on the works or achievements of white men. So, if you have never experienced or considered how damaging it is/was/could be to grow up without myriad role models and images in school that reflect you in your required reading material or in the mainstream media, you have white privilege.

7. All seniors at Harvard are invited to a fancy, seated group lunch with our respective dorm masters. (Yes, they were called “masters” up until this February, when they changed it to “faculty deans,” but that’s just a tasty little side dish to the main course of this remembrance). While we were being served by the Dunster House cafeteria staff—the black ladies from Haiti and Boston who ran the line daily (I still remember Jackie’s kindness and warmth to this day)—Master Sally mused out loud how proud they must be to be serving the nation’s best and brightest. I don’t know if they heard her, but I did, and it made me uncomfortable and sick. The point here is, if you’ve never been blindsided when you are just trying to enjoy a meal by a well-paid faculty member’s patronizing and racist assumptions about how grateful black people must feel to be in their presence, you have white privilege.
He was getting stopped by cops constantly because he was a black man in a luxury car.​
8. While I was writing on a television show in my 30s, my new white male boss—who had only known me for a few days—had unbeknownst to me told another writer on staff he thought I was conceited, didn’t know as much I thought I did, and didn’t have the talent I thought I had. And what exactly had happened in those few days? I disagreed with a pitch where he suggested our lead female character carelessly leave a potholder on the stove, burning down her apartment. This character being a professional caterer. When what he said about me was revealed months later (by then he’d come to respect and rely on me), he apologized for prejudging me because I was a black woman. I told him he was ignorant and clearly had a lot to learn. It was a good talk because he was remorseful and open. But the point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of a boss’s prejudiced, uninformed “how dare she question my ideas” badmouthing based on solely on his ego and your race, you have white privilege.

9. On my very first date with my now husband, I climbed into his car and saw baby wipes on the passenger-side floor. He said he didn’t have kids, they were just there to clean up messes in the car. I twisted to secure my seatbelt and saw a stuffed animal in the rear window. I gave him a look. He said, “I promise, I don’t have kids. That’s only there so I don’t get stopped by the police.” He then told me that when he drove home from work late at night, he was getting stopped by cops constantly because he was a black man in a luxury car and they assumed that either it was stolen or he was a drug dealer. When he told a cop friend about this, Warren was told to put a stuffed animal in the rear window because it would change “his profile” to that of a family man and he was much less likely to be stopped. The point here is, if you’ve never had to mask the fruits of your success with a floppy-eared, stuffed bunny rabbit so you won’t get harassed by the cops on the way home from your gainful employment (or never had a first date start this way), you have white privilege.

10. Six years ago, I started a Facebook page that has grown into a website called Good Black News because I was shocked to find there were no sites dedicated solely to publishing the positive things black people do. (And let me explain here how biased the coverage of mainstream media is in case you don’t already have a clue—as I curate, I can’t tell you how often I have to swap out a story’s photo to make it as positive as the content. Photos published of black folks in mainstream media are very often sullen- or angry-looking. Even when it’s a positive story! I also have to alter headlines constantly to 1) include a person’s name and not have it just be “Black Man Wins Settlement” or “Carnegie Hall Gets 1st Black Board Member,” or 2) rephrase it from a subtle subjugator like “ABC taps Viola Davis as Series Lead” to “Viola Davis Lands Lead on ABC Show” as is done for, say, Jennifer Aniston or Steven Spielberg. I also receive a fair amount of highly offensive racist trolling. I don’t even respond. I block and delete ASAP. The point here is, if you’ve never had to rewrite stories and headlines or swap photos while being trolled by racists when all you’re trying to do on a daily basis is promote positivity and share stories of hope and achievement and justice, you have white privilege.
Trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody.​
OK, Jason, there’s more, but I’m exhausted. And my kids need dinner. Remembering and reliving many of these moments has been a strain and a drain (and, again, this ain’t even the half or the worst of it). But I hope my experiences shed some light for you on how institutional and personal racism have affected the entire life of a friend of yours to whom you’ve only been respectful and kind. I hope what I’ve shared makes you realize it’s not just strangers, but people you know and care for who have suffered and are suffering because we are excluded from the privilege you have not to be judged, questioned, or assaulted in any way because of your race.

As to you “being part of the problem,” trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody. Just like nobody should be mad at me for being black. Or female. Or whatever. But what IS being asked of you is to acknowledge that white privilege DOES exist and not only to treat people of races that differ from yours “with respect and humor,” but also to stand up for fair treatment and justice, not to let “jokes” or “off-color” comments by friends, co-workers, or family slide by without challenge, and to continually make an effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so we may all cherish and respect our unique and special contributions to society as much as we do our common ground.

With much love and respect,

Lori
This article was originally published by Good Black News. It has been edited for YES! Magazine.
 

southfork

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#2
Dont much matter , a hundred years from now many blacks will still be playing the race card and crying oppression, too many have made it a way of life and teach their kids the same thing. Blacks cry not enough black coaches but its ok the teams are 80% black, it will never end
 

OhWell

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#3
the white privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed, made to feel unwelcome, or prone to acts of vandalism and hostility. Moving into a back country area of northern Virginia the locals harassed our family and certainly made us feel unwelcomed what was I a victim of?

if you’ve never had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege. When my skin color alone results in my black roommate in the Air Force hating me what would that be called?

if you’ve never been ‘the only one’ of your race in a class, at a party, on a job, etc. and/or it’s been pointed out in a “playful” fashion by the authority figure in said situation, you have white privilege. When I walk into the air traffic control radar room to report for work and I'm the only non-black and its pointed out in a "playful" fashion by the supervisor what would that be called?

if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it,” you have white privilege. When my son applied to be an air traffic controller and, because he was not black, considered ineligible what was he a victim of?

if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, you have white privilege. When the FAA under Obama decided to hire only blacks and people showed up at the academy unable to read write or comprehend was that do to white privilege also?

I am so tired of this crap. Discrimination is wrong, but unfortunately part of the human experience. As long as our differences are emphasized it will continue.

The Bible leads gives us the only possible answer, and one I live by.

Matthew 7:12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Luke 6:31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
 

Usury

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#4
Oh good grief. As a white man, I’ve experienced (or known other white males who have experienced) most of those things....but we never assumed somebody was out to get us. The exception being lack of black history...which is unfortunate, but reality. Instead of pissing and moaning about unfairness, make some good history for the future.
 

Strawboss

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#5
Is there a portion of the population that are prejudiced against blacks? - Yes.
Is there a portion of the black population that is prejudiced against whites? - Yes.
Is it true that EVERY SINGLE ethnicity/gender is a "protected class" except for white males (which technically makes white males the minority)? - Yes.

It sucks that here we are in the 21st century and stuff like this is still a problem.

Having said all that - I am absolutely certain that there exists subtle forms of racism that haunt/harrass the black community to this day. I have seen it with my own eyes. Hell - I am guilty of it myself. Example - saw a couple of young blacks that physically looked like thugs. Attire, braided hair, etc... Come to find out - they were actually politically conservative and great guys to talk to... I had prejudged them based solely on external factors and I was dead wrong.

They have been systemically attacked for a very long time. From having their labor stolen from them, to being unwittingly used by the Democrat party, to the creation of the welfare state, to shoddy school systems that pretty much guarantee illiterate graduates, to corrupt local government that defrauds their constituencies...

Not making excuses for them - just presenting that they have been on the receiving end (as a race) of some pretty unfair treatment for a very long time (many generations). And it gives me great joy to see more and more of them overcome, integrate and live very rewarding and satisfying lives - fully capturing the essence of the American dream.

I have known many, many blacks over my lifetime - both good and bad ones. And I can tell you with first hand experience - there are a LOT of really good people in the black community.
 

GOLDBRIX

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#6
Dont much matter , a hundred years from now many blacks will still be playing the race card and crying oppression, too many have made it a way of life and teach their kids the same thing. Blacks cry not enough black coaches but its ok the teams are 80% black, it will never end
Blame it on the BRAINWASHING the Progressive LEFTIST have in controlling the education system.
It teaches everyone "You are a Victim" and "Blame it on WHITEY". And most are white female teachers.
 

hammerhead

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If you were to read the green new deal, you would see in section 3, paragraph (B) a 20 times difference between the wealth of the average white family compared to an average black family. I shit you not.
 

tigerwillow1

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#9
That first post was well written and I pretty much agree with it on face value. What's missing is how blacks are racist against whites. My examples (40+ years old) are accidentally driving into a black neighborhood on a hot day in St. Louis and wondering if I'd be getting out alive. The other is when I went into a black bar in Texas looking for the owner of a nearby pet that looked lost. That was darn scary. What the whiners don't realize is the "privilege" situation is pretty common with any ethnic group, even if they're all the same color. When you're the odd person out, you have to endure some rejection and work for acceptance. Those that work at it often succeed, those that whine about it don't succeed.
 

Mujahideen

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That first post was well written and I pretty much agree with it on face value. What's missing is how blacks are racist against whites. My examples (40+ years old) are accidentally driving into a black neighborhood on a hot day in St. Louis and wondering if I'd be getting out alive. The other is when I went into a black bar in Texas looking for the owner of a nearby pet that looked lost. That was darn scary. What the whiners don't realize is the "privilege" situation is pretty common with any ethnic group, even if they're all the same color. When you're the odd person out, you have to endure some rejection and work for acceptance. Those that work at it often succeed, those that whine about it don't succeed.
In my life I see that what most would call white privilege I can say is pretty much nepotism at the work place and class discrimination mostly everywhere else.

Poor whites don’t want to hear about their non existent privileges.
 

newmisty

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Dont much matter , a hundred years from now many blacks will still be playing the race card and crying oppression, too many have made it a way of life and teach their kids the same thing. Blacks cry not enough black coaches but its ok the teams are 80% black, it will never end
It would be great if they took an objective look at their collective actions and social "etiquette". That would be a good place to start instead of always shifting responsibility onto anyone and everyone else in an attempt at justifying their collective depravity.
 

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If you were to read the green new deal, you would see in section 3, paragraph (B) a 20 times difference between the wealth of the average white family compared to an average black family. I shit you not.
Consider the source. Nuff said.
 

chomper

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#14
What if one is a cappucino, everyone loves cappucinos... don't they?
 

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I can empathize with the writer. I had some of the same shit happen to me and I’m not black. Never had the cops pull me over cause I was drivin to rich of a car. But I do have friends that have expressed some of those same stories to me. A journeymen that I was apprentice to back in the daze comes to mind. Some days we would stop off after work for a drink before heading home. Many stories from that ole dude. My first introduction to the difference between blacks in rural Idaho and blacks in the “big city”

BF
 

historyrepete

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#17
In my life I see that what most would call white privilege I can say is pretty much nepotism at the work place and class discrimination mostly everywhere else.

Poor whites don’t want to hear about their non existent privileges.
And neither do the whites who have worked hard and sacrificed to get where they are and have what they've gotten
 

Ironpig

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#18
It would be great if they took an objective look at their collective actions and social "etiquette". That would be a good place to start instead of always shifting responsibility onto anyone and everyone else in an attempt at justifying their collective depravity.
Exactly.
A very wise soul suggested I look within when I find fault outside of my control. If more people had this wisdom, we would live in a very different, and more inclusive, world.
 

newmisty

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Exactly.
A very wise soul suggested I look within when I find fault outside of my control. If more people had this wisdom, we would live in a very different, and more inclusive, world.
Wonder who that could have been... :p
 

RealJack

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#20
5. When I got accepted to Harvard (as a fellow AP student, you were witness to what an academic beast I was in high school, yes?), three separate times I encountered white strangers as I prepped for my maiden trip to Cambridge that rankle to this day. The first was the white doctor giving me a physical at Kaiser:

Me: “I need to send an immunization report to my college so I can matriculate.”Doctor: “Where are you going?”Me: “Harvard.”
Me Me Me: "Well la de fucking da, you insufferable elitist twat." :winks2:
 

hoarder

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#21
Force yourself on others and they will hate you. Whites are not preventing Blacks from creating their own "nice neighborhoods". There are plenty of wealthy Blacks, why don't they work to create nice Black neighborhoods? Do they think it cannot be done because of the character of Blacks?
 

Thecrensh

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#22
I remember one time, my uncle used his White Privilege. You see, he mouthed off to a couple of cops and they commenced to beat his tail fairly badly, then hauled him off to jail. After he was freed on bond (that his parents had to pay because he wasn't good with money), he went back living his live where he went to work at nights working the printing press at the local newspaper - overnight shift - then came home to his ratty trailer to sleep. He lived the sweet life as a white man because, you know, white privilege.
 

Aurumag

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#23
No such thing as white privilege out in these parts.

In fact, I would go so far as to say the heterosexual white male is an oppressed minority.
 

Wellsburg

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#24
I can empathize with the writer. I had some of the same shit happen to me and I’m not black. Never had the cops pull me over cause I was drivin to rich of a car.
I did. In 1989, I bought a 1987 Lincoln Town Car from my Uncle John. Two years old, garage kept, very low mileage. His wife hated that car. It was too big for her and she could not see over the headrests to back up, so I got it for a great price.

I was 25 years old (clean-cut white kid). Got pulled over by cops regularly. A few of them were very surprised that the car was registered to me. Most cops assumed that I was driving my dad's car and young men are easy pickins for speeding tickets and such.

It looked just like this:

1549740386804.png
 

DodgebyDave

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#25
White Privilege: Dad made it so that my sisters and I never wanted or needed anything. We had the best clothes, schools and roofs.

Dad didn't drink, go to bars, run around.

He played golf, bowled, raced

He made sure that I had an understanding. For my 18th birthday he gave me a suitcase. I was expected to use it.

My dad wasn't perfect, but, he's still the best.

White Privilege. I'll take it.
 

Son of Gloin

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White Privilege: Dad made it so that my sisters and I never wanted or needed anything. We had the best clothes, schools and roofs.

Dad didn't drink, go to bars, run around.

He played golf, bowled, raced

He made sure that I had an understanding. For my 18th birthday he gave me a suitcase. I was expected to use it.

My dad wasn't perfect, but, he's still the best.

White Privilege. I'll take it.
Same story. My dad and my mother grew up poor. And I mean poor. I could tell you plenty of stories, but I won’t bore you. They both decided, when they got married, that they would never live like they were raised and their kids would not want for anything they truly needed. So, my old man got up for work every single day, no matter how he felt and went to work and did a good job; that was the kind of man he was. And his paycheck came home with him every week, all of it to pay the bills. My mother got up every day and cooked good meals for us, washed clothes and cleaned the house and made us a good home. They taught me and my brothers to be good people.

That was my privilege right there. I had good parents and it didn’t matter that they were white people. They taught us all by example how to live and be successful. And gave us a solid whack on the ass or across the face when we needed one. They didn’t let us get away with any stupidity or disrespect. That is all the priviledge anybody needs, in my opinion and it makes all the difference. I thank God for my Mom and my Dad. I was immensely fortunate.
 

DodgebyDave

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#27
My sisters and I often heard "the great depression speach"........."we walked to school, 20 miles, uphill, both ways". 7 of us slept in the same bed, hand me down clothes, all of it true except the 20 miles to school. They road a bus. No heat or radio.....
 

Joe King

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#28
I usually get my white privilege at WalMart. Sometimes I get some at McDonalds too, but not as often.
 

DodgebyDave

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#30