It Exists. Let’s Talk About White Privilege

Kareena Narain Bhatia, Kent University

Uttaranksha Maheshwari, Kent University

‘A riot is the language of unheard’ has been reiterated over the years which was first voiced out by Martin Luther King III. This raises a thought-provoking question, ‘has America failed to hear the voices of the minority races over the decades or has it just turned a deaf ear to it?’ Focusing mainly on the United States of America, there are countless incidents and reported cases under racism that it is hard even to go back to the first. According to a poll in 2018 by NBC News, it was stated that 40 percent of the black-Americans are treated unfairly in a public place such as a store or restaurant due to their race, compared to only 7 percent of the whites.[1] This figure has only been increasing, and the minority mourned silently, until the 25th of May when it finally tipped over the peak and took an innocent man’s life under broad daylight. Four police officers stopped George Floyd under the suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 cheque at the store. Floyd allegedly restrained the arrest when stopped, a claim that was regarded as bogus by the witnesses. It led to Floyd becoming a victim of abuse by the police officer, Derek Chauvin. He was held down to the ground while the officer rested his knees on Floyd’s neck, blocking the windpipe and blood flow to the brain, making him unconscious. He gasped and wailed for air for roughly 8 minutes, pleading to be allowed to breathe at least. However, the unfortunate incident saw Floyd’s death with his last words as “Please, I can’t breathe.”

This event resulted in widespread international attention and the start of the #BlackLivesMatter movement after a bystander posted the video of the incident on social media. The murder of Floyd at the hands of the police officer portrays a deep-rooted problem of racial discrimination existing in the USA over the years. There have been numerous cases previously where the black Americans have been brutally killed by the white police officers, leaving them with similar last words.[2]

It is said that the American constitution has evolved over the years, becoming relevant to the current times. However, why is the country still following orthodox ideologies and mistreating those of darker colour? Is there no effective legislation or are there no effective law enforcers? The current American Constitution states that ‘all citizens are equal before the law regardless of their colour’, under the Equal Protection Clause from the Fourteenth Amendment. This was in support to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which guarantees equal protection to all citizens by the law, but is crushing an innocent man’s neck for almost 8 minutes till death considered as ‘equal protection’ by the USA? It is often blamed that despite the evolution of the American legislation, its roots continue to intertwine with the original practice of slave patrol. Blacks have been treated and restricted as properties of the white for years now. The white police officers enjoy protection to the extent that their hate crimes against other races go unnoticed.

The outrage in the country has taken over the panic of the most concerning issue globally at the moment, the Coronavirus. If the country’s most significant issue is not even the outbreak of a deadly virus, they need some reforms in the way they enforce their law, which we will be discussing in detail.

To solve this revolving issue, we must get to the root of the problem. This issue has been building over the years and sunk in so deep into the system that it is hard to filter out. Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause from the constitution are effective legislations and amendments to support all those who are discriminated but are there active enforcers? Racial disparities have always existed and are unfairly carried out by the police. In recent years, it has been enforced at the forefront of basic crimes and drugs. The justice and lawmakers go through years of learning and training while the police departments who give effect to the law go under only a few months of training. They are given a gun and are allowed to arrest anyone based on their judgment. According to us, the government should reform the trainee program that a police officer undergoes and impose substantial repercussions for those who oppose the law and follow racial disparities.

The role of Belle Case La Follette in fighting against racially segregated government offices in 1913 and 1914 offers a template that illuminates how one can genuinely assist in racial justice. La Follette was keenly aware that while she could not know what it was like to be African American confronting deeply entrenched racist structures, she could dig into the trenches and focus on action, advocacy, and activism, not mere expressions of solidarity.

Throughout her life, her belief in racial equality was not just an abstract principle. She used her power and influence to destroy the blindness and injustice with which Negro citizens of America were treated.

In essence, a real change is required, which can be brought up only by the new generation. As said by Angela Davis, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be not racist, you must be actively anti-racist.”[3] The ongoing protests can be extremely effective in raising public awareness and placing a spotlight on the decades-long injustice. Peaceful protest and civil disobedience create public pressure, which forces the political system to become responsive to the marginalized society and translate their justifiable rage and frustration into specific laws. Another way the public can try to bring a change is in the form of signing petitions. It is an essential tool as it indicates a commitment to the movement and the voices of every individual who choose not to overlook the situation, and it usually takes lesser than a minute.

Moving away from the repressive issue, racism towards dark skin tones is not the only loathsome acts in the United States. Due to the high value brought to the economy by the Asian Americans, they were known as the “model minority.” However, since the outbreak of the virus, they are referred to as the “yellow peril” by the Native Americans. A recent instance was seen during the current pandemic when the virus was referred to as the “Chinese virus or flu” by the Americans due to its origin. A usually buzzing street, ‘Chinatown’ in New York is now deserted, Chinese restaurants boycotted, and flights to and from China canceled, these acts of discrimination are similar to the actions during the SARS outbreak in 2003.[4] According to the US census bureau, the countries white population is slowly declining and will become a minority by 2045.[5] Yet, racial discrimination against other races, especially blacks, tends to heighten each year, thereby making the current ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement powerful than ever.

This is not just a tragic American story, but a story for every privileged white person to hear. To conclude, as said by James Baldwin, “the world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”[6]  Hence, we need to stand up and end this race war in the USA and around the world. The first step needs to be taken at an individual level on a global scale. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves because a topic such as racism should not be considered controversial. The white police officers need to be held accountable since a profession such as theirs ensures protection to the people rather than racial discrimination. Policy changes and the adoption of a new approach has become significant to determine the future of race relations. The government believes this is a scream for one murder of George Floyd, whereas it is an echo resonating over centuries for hundreds of innocently killed black Americans. In the days ahead, white Americans can use their privilege to be perpetrators of an old problem or partners in the creation of a new solution. Protest does not automatically lead to change. White expressions of solidarity today will ring hollow if not followed up by the meaningful and persistent action modeled by Belle La Follette in exposing and attacking racism. As her efforts and failures show, this won’t be a quick or easy fight, but whiteness enables allies in this struggle to push in ways that African Americans sometimes cannot without disproportionate risk. That was Belle La Follette’s secret — she used white privilege to fight against it.


Kareena Narain Bhatia is a student at Kent University. She can be reached here.

Uttaranksha Maheshwari is a student at Kent University. She can be reached here.


Photo Credits: Andrew Burton/AFP

Notes:

[1] Andrew Arenge, Stephanie Perry and Dartunorro Clark, ‘Poll: 64 percent of Americans say racism remains a major problem’ NBC News (London, 29 May 2018).

[2] ‘George Floyd: Timeline of black deaths caused by police’ BBC News (US, 3 June 2020).

[3] Aimee Felone, ‘No reader is too young to start: anti-racist books for all children and teens’ The Guardian (London, 4 June 2020).

[4] Matthew Lee, ‘Coronavirus fears show how ‘model minority’ Asian Americans become the ‘yellow peril’’ NBC News (US, 9 March 2020).

[5] William H. Frey, ‘The US will become ‘minority white’ in 2045, Census projects’ (Brookings, 14 March 2018) https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2018/03/14/the-us-will-become-minority-white-in-2045-census-projects/ Accessed 13 June 2020.

[6] Waters, Rob. “‘Britain Is No Longer White’: James Baldwin as a Witness to Postcolonial Britain.” African American Review, vol. 46, no. 4, 2013, pp. 715–730. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/24589864?seq=1 Accessed 7 June 2020.

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