My Lesson in White Privilege

by Shelby Larsen

Since the death of George Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in May, protests calling for a stop to systemic racism and police brutality towards African Americans have taken place across the country.

While we spend our winters on Sanibel Island, we have lived in Los Angeles, Calif., long enough to have experienced protests and riots. Prior to the historical LA riot in 1992 over the acquittal of police officers charged with the beating of Rodney King – the first to be captured on film – I had a lesson in white privilege.

It was 1989 or 1990 and our daughter was part of a swim club. I was at a parent’s board meeting to work on logistics for an upcoming swim meet. For those who don’t know about these meets, they run from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening. Since bleachers, if there were any, are hard and hot, it was crucial to bring pop up tents for more comfortable seating.

One of the parents asked another parent, a respected African American journalist for a major news organization, to pick up the tents for the upcoming meet from their home. “The tents are in my garage – just swing by and pick them up,” the parent said to him. He looked at us as if we had lost our minds. “I’m not going into a white person’s back yard and garage by myself,” he responded.

His tone was incredulous that anyone would ask him to do this. Yet, no one else at the table would have hesitated. The response from all of us white people living in the same neighborhood would have said, “Sure.” Going into someone’s back yard and garage was not anything we would think twice about; was not anything to cause concern or caution.

But he had to think. He had to have concern. He had to be cautious. He couldn’t “just do it.” That is white privilege.

Comments (1)

  1. For a different perspective, why not listen to Shelby Steele, a black professor from Stanford University, being interviewed by Mark Levin (podcast)

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