Black Girl, White Privilege
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
I’m a Black Woman in America and I’ve lived white privilege.
That’s the kind of statement that is followed by a pregnant pause. Think about it. What is white privilege for a black person? What does white privilege for a black woman, even look like? Maybe I was mistaken. Surely white privilege couldn’t coexist alongside black disparity, or could it?
Notice. My question isn’t whether white privilege is a thing rather, the question is, how did this very real thing creep its way into the life of a little black girl and cause her to understand not only white privilege, but also black privilege?
How did this little black girl have the audacity to partake in a birthright of advantage that was not hers to own? I’m happy to share, but before I do, I need to ask a favor of you. Hear my thoughts, my voice, my truth. Hear me.
Smith Trailer Park is the place where my first memories were birthed. The youngest of three girls, I often felt a sense of security and protection. At one time, I was probably the only thing that my two older sisters could agree on. It was almost as if they'd made a truce, “Protect and spoil baby sis at all cost”.
We grew up receiving benefits as far left of white privilege as you could imagine. Food stamps, WIC, free school lunches during the Summer, you name it, we likely had it. My mother was a hustler in every sense of the word. She, like many black moms, understood the science of creating something out of nothing or better said, making a dollar out of fifteen cents.
In hindsight, I truly can’t piece together how she was able to make a cozy home out of the singlewide trailer we lived in, but she did. Although our lifestyle was laced in poverty, we enjoyed the same experiences that most children do. From sibling bath time in the tub as toddlers and home videos capturing our most embarrassing moments, to playing outside with the neighborhood kids and sneaking freeze pops out of the fridge in the heat of Summer. My mom did the very best she could with what she had and in some cases she was positioned to make some pretty tough decisions. One of which would change the course of our family’s lives forever.
It was the Winter of 1996. I vividly remember sitting in a cold courtroom with a few familiar faces. My aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings crowded the pews. As the younger ones of the bunch struggled to keep still and quiet, I was unusually calm taking in everything going on around me. One thing I noticed right away was that my mom was nowhere in sight. I had no clue where she had gone or why we were there.
After what seemed like hours of waiting, my eyes immediately darted to an opening door off to the far left side of the courtroom. In walked my mother, she was dressed in a long black leather trench coat, one I’d seen her sport many times before. She had her hair pulled up in a high ponytail.
She looked as gorgeous to me as she ever had.
I couldn’t make out what she and the judge were saying but this memory seems to always play back in my mind in slow motion with no sound. The judge would say one last thing which triggers volume and resets the speed back to normal. In an instant the faces of my relatives flipped to reveal their sad, angry and helpless emotions. I'd capture one last glimpse of my mom as she turns in our direction to mouth what I can make out as “I love you.” and this unlocks the floodgates of tears that I can no longer withhold. She then disappears through the door she entered moments before.
My mom was incarcerated for almost 5 years during which my siblings and I were separated and sent to live with a few of her relatives. So many things happened both good and not-so-good during that span of time. It seemed like forever waiting for the day that we’d all be able to reunite with my mom. While incarcerated my mother married my stepfather who happened to be a white man. I had met him once not long before my mother was taken away from us. I was drawn to him right away and gave my nod of approval by greeting him with my peering eyes and a smile.
Upon reuniting with my mom and siblings, my stepfather would show us a completely different way of life. He was well established with his own business and savvy financial habits. He’d give us absolutely everything. This included trampolines, bikes, clothes, jewelry, toys, gaming systems, you name it, we had it. My stepdad made sure we lacked nothing, pulling out his wallet with no hesitation when we would approach him with a “Daddy can I have…” rolling off of our tongues. As we grew older he’d become a little less open handed to our requests but nonetheless we were well taken care of, lol.
We benefited greatly from having our stepdad enter our lives. We lived in a small town that suffers from racism and divisiveness still to this day. There is an actual railroad track that divides the town into the “good” and the “bad” side. We lived on the “good” side. Everyone in the town knew you or “your folks”. Our family was well known partly because my step dad grew up in that town, but also because our family looked different than most. My mom had five children. My two younger brothers came shortly before she was sent away. We’d get stares and questions and it wasn’t until my step dad visited me in elementary school one day that I really realized how much we stood out.
I was selected to be the caboose that particular day tailing the end of the line as we headed to lunch. “April!” My step dad called out from a few feet behind me. I’d turn to look along with my entire class and then it happened. Whispers, snickers and questions echoed in the empty hallway as my classmates noticed the obvious difference. I was immediately embarrassed and proceeded to put my head down and continue walking in the opposite direction. My teacher finally noticed what was happening and told the class to continue on to lunch as she pulled me from the line to escort me towards my dad. Later he would express how my embarrassment of him had hurt his feelings and I’d explain why I was ashamed. That was the first and last time I’d ever respond that way.
As I grew older, I noticed the advantage of having a white stepdad in my corner. I specifically remember riding home from a school function with my boyfriend (now husband) and his older brother. We were pulled over just feet away from my home which was within walking distance of our high school. As the two police officers approached the car, I became more and more nervous. I’d never claim to be an angel but I never mixed well with trouble.
As the white police officers questioned my boyfriend’s brother from the driver’s side window I had already decided that at the first chance I had to speak, I was pulling the privilege card that at the time I honestly didn’t know existed. The second officer came to our back passenger door and asked where we were headed. Truthfully I answered that I was on my way home and pointed to the big white house. “My dad is Mr. Holloman” I added. The police officer took a second look at me and mentioned something to his partner.
I had seen his partner on several occasions, in fact his son played baseball with my little brothers. He opened my door and said to me, “You’re fine to head home. Be careful!” I hopped out of the car quicker than I could blink and briskly walked the short distance home. I looked back only once to see my boyfriend’s brother being asked out of the car. As soon as I was home I ran to my parent’s room to tell them what had happened. My dad would make a few calls and I’d later get a text from my boyfriend saying that they'd made it home safe with only a warning. I can’t remember for the life of me why we were pulled over. If memory serves me right it could have been for speeding or a broken tail light if I had to guess. That wasn’t the only occasion that I leveraged white privilege by association however, as I’ve grown into a black woman, those benefits have pretty much expired.
I walk this Earth as a proud melanated woman, a wife to my hardworking and loving black king and a mother to three beautiful black princesses all different shades and personalities but equally magical. As blacks, we almost never get a pass or the benefit of the doubt. Having somewhat lived on both sides of white privilege I realize the need to address it front and center, loud and clear. Justice, human rights, civil rights, legal rights, heck even receiving the benefit-of-the-doubt should be afforded to us all instead of packaged as white privilege.
I don’t claim to have all of the answers but white privilege sure ain’t it, no matter what side of it you find yourself on. Some may think time’s up for educating our white counterparts on the struggles we as blacks face everyday or how systemic racism still exists. In my opinion there are opportunities to educate on both sides and someone has to do it.
To my brothers and sisters who are angry, fed up, hurt, disgusted, broken and running on empty, I get it! Maybe you couldn’t give two f@#$! about explaining yourself to our white counterparts and that’s okay. One thing I learned growing up with siblings is that sometimes when one can’t get it done, the other jumps in to help. It’s like an unspoken rule. So, it’s my turn to speak up, take action and run my leg of the race. I’m honored to do so. I’m honored because this is an opportunity to fight for change, make an impact and to do my part.
Should we as blacks have to be in a constant fight for our basic rights, hell no! But I choose to look at this opportunity as a my black privilege.. One that I can proudly claim.
I am a Black woman in America and I’m living and EMBRACING this Black privilege!
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