Being raised by a Hispanic mother and a Black father meant I had to learn at an early age what racism was.
My parents wanted me to understand I would always be the victim of people’s assumptions, whether they applied to me or not, and I would have to work harder than my white counterparts to prove my worth. I hate that I had to learn these life lessons so young, but this is the reality for children of color.
At an early age, we’re taught about the harsh reality of systemic racism and how we’re going to fall victim to it. Unfortunately, we’re destined to face numerous obstacles because of our race.
This is especially true for Black children who experience racial discrimination the moment they enter the school system. Although Black students represent about 15% percent of the total U.S. student enrollment, they make up 35% of students who were suspended once, 44% of students who were suspended more than once, and 36% of students who were expelled.
To end this vicious cycle, we need to start having open, honest conversations about racism. By understanding what it means to be Black in America and how people benefit from white privilege, we can educate our peers on why people are saying enough is enough. To start this difficult but necessary conversation, here are three topics you should focus on.
What is Systemic Racism?
Systemic racism is when racism is found within social and political institutions. It’s used to directly affect people of color’s (POC) level of income, education, health care and housing, along with affecting the way they’re treated by the justice system and their representation in politics.
A prime example of systemic racism can be seen in NYC’s Stop and Frisk law that allows police officers to question and search people if they suspect them of committing a crime. However, this policy became controversial when officers were suspected of racially profiling people. Between 2002 and 2019, Black and Latinx communities were the target of this law.
In 2019 alone, 88% of police stops involved Black and Latinx people, while 9% involved white people. Of these stops, 66% were completely innocent.
When Black and Latinx people are jailed for crimes, they make up more than 50% of incarcerated individuals in the U.S. prison system. However, if they were incarcerated at the same rates as white people, the prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.
This is just one example of how systemic racism has wrongfully targeted POC and how it will continue to affect them if a change isn’t made. How are they supposed to support a system that targets their community?
What is White Privilege?
White privilege is when you’re granted privileges based on your race. This idea can also be extended to a person’s gender, financial status and sexual identity.
The people who benefit the most from white privilege are white, cisgender, straight males who grew up in a middle or upper-class home. A prime example of white privilege is Brock Turner, who committed a heinous crime and only received a few months in jail or the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor and weren’t charged for her murder.
But, if a Black person committed the same crime as either of these men, they would have been sentenced to years in prison. On average, Black men receive sentences that are 19.1% longer than white men who committed similar crimes.
White privilege can also be seen in the way you think. From Barbeque Becky to the white woman who called the cops on a Black man in Central Park, people know, when they mention a person is Black or Hispanic, the police are more likely to come to their aid.
Even the argument of whether it’s disrespectful to kneel during the national anthem is an example of white privilege. Black people aren’t kneeling because they hate America or the military, they’re doing it because they can’t stand for a country that has a history of oppressing Black people. If you can’t understand their reasoning, then you are privileged enough to not relate to the pain and suffering they feel every day.
Whether it’s through media or the way you’re treated, there are multiple ways people benefit from white privilege. If you can turn on your favorite television show and see numerous characters who look like you and had the same upbringing as you, that’s a privilege. If you’re able to go to a store and not be followed around as you shop, that’s a massive privilege. Even having good encounters with the police and being able to live life without worrying if someone is going to call the police on you is a privilege Black Americans wish they had.
Being white doesn’t mean you don’t work hard for everything you have. It just means more opportunities are granted to you, whether you realize it or not. There are certain things in life you’ll never have to worry about because of your race, such as having an employer tell you your hair texture isn’t professional or not receiving an interview because of your name.
Understanding the ways you or someone you know might be privileged will help you comprehend how much harder people of color have to work to achieve the same opportunities or luxuries.
Spread the Word and Donate
There are numerous ways you can help the Black community without leaving your home.
The first is to stay informed, because you can’t educate people about systemic racism if you don’t know what’s going on in the Black community. Organizations such as Black Lives Matter, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Black Visions Collective are excellent to follow and engage with on social media because they’re vocal about police brutality, are fighting to end racial discrimination, and want to see Black people prosper.
If you can’t join a protest, you can support protesters by sharing their stories to remind people how powerful our voices can be. The Civil Rights Movement wouldn’t have been successful if thousands of people didn’t support it and spread the message.
You can also help spread the message by reposting and sharing posts or videos from activists, telling your peers about organizations to donate to, such as The Bail Project, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Reclaim the Block, signing change.org petitions and supporting Black-owned businesses.
Also, don’t be afraid to call people out when they use racial slurs or say something that’s racially insensitive. Racism won’t end until people are able to change their way of thinking and make an effort to grow and educate themselves about the history behind the hurtful words they’re saying.
The fight for justice never ends, so it’s important to speak up each and every day. We need you to show your support, even when things look like they are getting better. Supporting Black lives shouldn’t be a trend you’re following because everyone else is doing it. It should be something you’re passionate about.
We know all life matters. But, right now, we need to feel like Black Lives Matter, too.
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