My three pink-cheeked, boisterous little boys.
I’m writing to you today because I want to talk to you about privilege. More specifically, I want to talk about your privilege. Your privilege that is based only upon that pink, rosy skin tone of yours.
I know what you might be thinking: “But Mom, we’re not privileged. We weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths. We’re not rich or anything.”
And in that sense, you’re partially right. You’re not privileged in that rich, silver spoon, incomparably wealthy sort of way. To be clear, you’re rich compared to many other people throughout the world, and even compared to many other people in our country. In that respect, you are privileged.
But we’re not talking about a privilege contest, and I’m not talking about this particular use of the word “privilege.”
I’m talking about your privilege in regard to your color. In regard to your race: your whiteness.
And I want you to know about it. I don’t want to beat you over the head with it. I don’t want to make you “feel bad” about it. I don’t want to insinuate that you are somehow morally culpable for this privilege you carry with you. I just want you to know about it. I want you to be aware of it. I want you to know about it and be aware about it and not be the sort of person who denies it and remains willfully ignorant about it.
Because the sort of privilege that I am talking about grants you the freedom to think and feel and move about in this world in a way that not everyone else can. It gives you power and dominance in this world, and that power and dominance are based solely on your race.
And that is unjust. It is unfair. It is wildly unjust and unfair. And I hope against hope that I’m raising you to be the sorts of people who rage against the injustice and unfairness in the world.
Because when you say something particularly clever or funny or insightful, no one is going to look surprised or smugly self-satisfied and proclaim that you are “so articulate” and intend that description to be a simultaneous compliment to you and a dig to people who look like you.
You will have access to a plethora of film, book, and television characters who are heroes, or even superheroes, and who “look like you” to a certain extent.
You will be able to buy action figures and/or dolls who are representative of your race.
Your friends and classmates will likely not exoticize your facial features, your skin color, your hair.
That “pink-cheekedness” of yours will be held up as something undeniably beautiful in your culture and society.
You can choose to be in the company of other people who have a similar skin color to yours, and you won’t have to automatically worry that people around you will assume that you are “up to no good.”
If you are shopping alone, it is unlikely that you will be followed around the store and/or harassed simply based on your race.
If you have children some day, and if they look like you, you likely won’t have to educate them on how to defend themselves against verbal and physical attacks stemming from racial prejudices.
You can move almost anywhere in the country, and you likely won’t have to worry all that much about finding a house or apartment complex or neighborhood that will be welcoming to you and your family.
If you make poor choices, these choices won’t be ascribed to the supposedly poor characteristics or traits of your entire race.
The next time a white kid commits a crime, their actions will not reflect upon you in society’s eyes: they will reflect only upon the kid themselves.
In that same vein, your actions will not be seen as a reflection upon every other person who looks like you, and you will not be asked by anyone to set a good example for the many millions of people who look like you.
When you get a job, your new co-workers won’t assume that you got it solely because of the company’s affirmative action policies.
When someone says “those people” derisively, they probably won’t be talking about you.
When you walk down the street, your appearance will likely not inspire fear into passersby.
When you are driving in your car, you likely won’t have to worry about the police pulling you over because of overt or even tacit racial biases.
If you wear a hoodie, people will probably see you as having chosen a comfortable sweatshirt: not as having coded yourself as a violent criminal.
But this isn’t the case for everyone. It’s especially not the case for everyone in the United States.
And I don’t want any of you to rest on your laurels and feel “so lucky” that you don’t have to worry about these things in your lives. I don’t want you to feel relief at the thought of these privileges. I don’t want you to say, “Oh wow, isn’t it great that we don’t have to worry about these things like other people do? We are so blessed!”
Because if everyone can’t feel like they belong in this strange and alternately terrible-and-wonderful human community of ours–if these feelings and experiences and power are only meted out to a few who have done nothing to earn them–then we, then you, are not blessed.
And if I’m doing anything right as your parent, I indeed hope that you feel angry at the thought of these privileges and the injustices they imply. And I hope you’re more than mindful about them: I hope that as you grow older, you become young men who do something about them.