Why I don’t get a free pass on white priviledge

origin_14918918396Ok, so no one really, actually gets a free pass on white privilege but many of us lighter skinned individuals have the privilege of having a tremendous social media fueled debate on the reality and validity of white privilege or the lack thereof. Pick a side. Get all heated up over which ever side you pick and then go back to engaging in our actual life either more or less socially aware than before.

But Ferguson changed all that for me. I don’t know why that event in particular was different from all the other similar events in the US. Or why it was different to every other racist event or attitude so prevalent in my home city of Cape Town.  But something about a young black man gunned down while walking home with his friends hit home for me.

That could be my son…

I would never want to have a free pass on fighting white privilege but until recently it has always been a choice for me. Yes one fuelled by core beliefs, by my faith and my friendships. A choice that I have willingly and intentionally made, but one, I could recant  and stick my head in the sand of denialism again if I chose to do so.

But I no longer have a choice. Mike Brown could be my son.

I have two sons… and as most of us know two black men are just one short of a gang.

Two black men are going to mug you

Two black men are likely thugs or rapists

Two black men are casing the joint

No one cares what colour your parents are

No one cares if you are adopted or not

No one cares what your home language is

No one cares if you are educated or not

No one cares what your father does

Two black men plus one are a gang

White privilege means ladies will hold their handbags tighter when my sons walk down the street. They will probably smile and greet me.

White privilege means law enforcement vehicles will do the slow drive past them on their way to visit their grandparents. They may quite possibly be questioned as what they are doing in the area.

White privilege means my sons could be imprisoned because like every other 18-year-old they have a smart mouth and a big attitude.

My son could be shot because he is eighteen and arrogant

No matter how smart, talented or hard-working he is, he will always be thought to be a token or a quota just because he has more melanin than me.

For those who would wrongly claim the cultural high ground with ill-informed statements like “but black men are more likely to commit crimes” or “black men are more likely to carry guns.”

Lets be straight, no one will ask my sons about their upbringing or their cultural environment. No one will look the other way because my sons have white parents or speak good English. They will judged and convicted by the colour of their skin!

I don’t get a free pass on white privilege. I no longer get a choice whether to engage or not with the intellectual discussions of power and privilege.

My son could be Mike Brown!

Disclaimer: This is not all that can or should be said on white privilege, Ferguson or racial reconciliation, it is just one personal reflection among many. You may also want to read “What I would love my white friends to hear”

Photo Credit: Mike Licht via Photo Pin


11 thoughts on “Why I don’t get a free pass on white priviledge

  1. brettfish

    Wow, strong piece John, thanks for writing… This is something we all need to take up, together, as a nation, to see it change in days, or maybe months and years to come, for our, and your, children.

    Brett fish


  2. Doniwen

    Thanks for this piece John. Mbiti wrote an article on the quietism of Evangelicalism on this matter. It has made me to think of the kind of ways I have been implicated and negatively affected by the various issues (and man ,aren’t there many issues in view here) on this whole debate.


    1. John Post author

      Where can I find that article by Mbiti? Google has revealed nothing. I would be very interested to read what he has to say. I have been thinking a lot about how we are caught between quietism and defiance and how little as evangelicals we have thought how we walk the tension between these two. Not giving in to either extreme…


      1. John Post author

        Thanks Bronwyn that article is brilliant but it is not by John Mbiti but Thabiti Anyabwile? Both of whom are theologians, albeit of somewhat different backgrounds. I had previously read the Anyabwile piece but never seen anything of the sort by Mbiti. Strangely enough that is the exact same article Doniwen sent me by mistake instead of the article by Mbiti. I am still waiting to see if this article exists or whether Doniwen made the same mistake as you.


  3. John Post author

    Thanks for that link Welston that is a chillingly brilliant piece on white privilege. My question though would be is there a situation where I could use the colour of my skin to help bring justice for another without actually enabling and condoning the entire system that says my voice counts for more because I am white?


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  5. Bob

    The Brown shooting has absolutely nothing to do with white privilege. He wasn’t shot because he is black. It’s fallacious to to claim that is the reason he was shot, and thus racism and white privilege is the problem here.

    The kid robbed a store, violently. A crime. Clearly he has no issue getting aggressive with innocent people. Another crime. The kid then jay walked, drawing police attention. Also a crime. Police were on the look out for the robbers, and he was arrogant enough to draw attention to himself from the cops. When stopped by the police, the kid assaulted the officer. A crime. If we ignore all of that, then yes, he was shot because he is black…

    By making this about racism and so called white privilege, all that happens is that no one needs to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions that result from poor decision making. Mike Brown made his choices in life, clearly poor choices, which resulted in him arriving at a point where the consequences were that he gets shot and killed.

    The only way your son could be Mike Brown is if you fail to teach him that actions have consequences and that he therefore needs to make better decisions in life. The alternative is to not teach him that, and then when the consequences of poor choices in his life catch up with him, you can cry racism… Because personal responsibility is clearly outdated.


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