The elements of the event may or may not be essential. I’m not sure. My topic is either the ill-advised spontaneous act or white privilege. I’m not sure. While I do love the occasional, remarkable object lesson, the meaning of this one isn’t clear to me. Let’s see if writing will work its magic.
I was at the bank, working with a teller to deposit a check. Another woman was doing the same thing with the teller next to me. Her business over quicker than mine, she asked the teller for a lollipop, “A red ones—I really like those.” The teller handed her one. A little glimmer of a good deed came to me, so when I was done within two seconds, I said to my teller, “May I have a red lollipop?” She gave me three. I turned to the other bank customer and said, “These are actually for you.” Her response was odd, “Oh I like to give them to the grandkids.”
Would that this was all. Perhaps you can guess my discomfort. The two young bank tellers were Hispanic, the other woman was black, and I am white. It dawned on me that the web of white privilege had caught me.
It could have been averted, of course, if I’d kept my mouth shut. The other customer didn’t notice, probably, maybe, but I was not going to walk out with three lollipops that I didn’t want when what I wanted was to give them to my banking neighbor.
That discomfort may have stemmed from an awareness—suddenly and unbidden—of an incident of white privilege. Again, I’m not sure. Perception is everything, though.
In recent news we had a cocky Areva Martin at CNN accusing radio host David Webb of being the recipient of white privilege. Her rather snarky reply to his suggestion of qualifications being more important than color: “Well, David, that’s a whole ‘nother long conversation about white privilege, the things that you have the privilege of doing that people of color don’t have the privilege of.” Of course, he had to correct her, suggesting she wasn’t well prepared, and she did accept blame on behalf of “my people” who had given her wrong information. David Webb is black, after all. Pay attention, people. Webb did not acknowledge the existence of white privilege, however, stating that he believes in “earned privilege that you work for.”
While I wish that were true, I suspect it’s not. This article is for teachers and cites history and examples that most of us would recognize, from “flesh-colored” Band-aids to hair care products to television shows. We may want to say “yes, but…” and then be confronted with two extra lollies.
The analogy that came to mind was natural gas, which on its own is odorless and colorless. Following an explosion at a school in New London, Texas, in 1937, the legislature mandated an odor be added to detect leaks. You know that smell, I’ll bet. Hundreds died that day. Walter Cronkite, a new reporter then, said, “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.” I knew two women who were there and survived, sisters who lived quiet lives in Dallas.
There isn’t someone to give me an odd odor to remember. A lapel pin maybe? I can’t help being white, obviously. I dislike movies that make that whiteness toxic (Dances with Wolves and Avatar, for example), but I’ve been given a gift of awareness in the form of two undeserved lollipops. Red on request, because my friend whom I hoped I didn’t embarrass liked them. A little gesture, sure. Let’s see what I will do when something similar happens again, as it surely will. (Magic worked? Not sure, but I know more than when I started. More could be said…which is how things should end.)