Tag Archive | white privilege

This is what white privilege looks like.

So…this happened. The following video shows an altercation on a TTC subway train in which a middle aged white woman sits on the feet of a young black man. The man is listening to earphones and looking at his phone. At first it’s hard to see but it becomes apparent that he had been sitting with the balls of his feet braced against the seat in front of him when she sat on top of his forefeet, physically preventing him from moving them.

This video made me feel physically ill. You can hear his anger turn to fear when he finally pushes her off and realizes how this is going to play out, a black man versus a white woman. “I shouldn’t be having to touch a lady.” And her smugness in her privilege is utterly revolting. She SAT ON A STRANGER. She PUT her body ON TOP of his body and refused to move it. Justifying her actions as a lesson in manners. WHO DOES THAT?? WHO FUCKING DOES THAT?? The answer, of course is: Someone with the confidence borne of a lifetime of privilege and the sense of entitlement that goes along with does.

The feet on the seat isn’t the issue here. The issue is that the woman appointed herself the manners police and instigated a physical altercation, something she was confident she could do without suffering any consequences because her white privilege meant she had never experienced systemic racism – the kind of racism that sees black boys shot to death for walking at night in a hoodie while white boys can commit mass murder and be arrested unharmed. The black man on the other hand endured this humiliation for almost a minute before finally resorting to physical aggression – knowing, because the knowledge is drilled into black boys starting in early childhood, that if things got out of hand, HE would at best be the one held responsible; at worst, arrested or attacked. We have no way of knowing if she chose him for her “lesson” because of his race, but we do know from experience that because of his race the situation was far more dangerous for him than for her.

Screengrab from the video posted by Jay Shylo with the words "This is what White Privilege looks like" overlaid.

(Image description: Screengrab from the video posted by Jay Shylo with the words “This is what White Privilege looks like” overlaid by PicklesINK.)

Then there’s the reporting. Every news report about this incident has focused on the feet on the seat and his language. Apparently there’s a bylaw; This young man could have been fined $235 for putting his feet on an empty seat. Perhaps he would have preferred that to being physically and verbally scolded by some stranger on the subway. According to the headlines like those in The Toronto Star, GlobalTV, and CityNews, this was an “etiquette lesson gone awry,” although I probably would have gone with, “physical assault on a stranger.” And every article quotes the part where he finally pours out his righteous anger as expletives; not the first half where he calmly and repeatedly asks her to “get off me, please,” and she smugly replies, “No.”

According to TTC officials, the woman was correct to hit the emergency stop after he pushed her off, because *that’s* when it turned into a physical altercation. Newsflash, friends: It became a physical altercation when she EFFING SAT ON HIM. TTC spokesperson also said passengers should use the alarm when they feel their safety is at risk, which was clearly not the case here, as the women who instigated the assault followed her victim in an attempt to continue her harassment as he left. And yes, I said assault, referring to HERS on HIM. Of course, if it had even occurred to him to hit the panic strip initially, I sincerely doubt officials or popular opinion would have been quite so understanding of his reasons. As activist and blogger Tasheka Lavann asks, “Are we saying that if I decide to put my feet on a seat…another passenger has the right to enter my personal space, sit on my feet and refuse to move…that’s the justification I am seeing across social media for this latest RACIST act right here in Canada — the notion that, somehow, this young man deserved to be harassed and assaulted.”

Jay Shylo, who recorded the assault, said that most of the passengers on the train agreed the woman seemed to have instigated the situation, targeting this man when there were many empty seats as well as another passenger with his feet up (no report on his race or ethnicity, but I’d be willing to hazard a guess). Shylo said, “I think what ignited her was that (the male passenger) was answering back.” How dare he! A black man getting lippy with her when all she did was deliberately cross a half-empty subway car to SIT ON HIM. “Both were verbally abusing each other. It got petty.” Oh. *THAT’S* when it got petty. At least Shylo recorded the disturbing incident and posted it online so everyone could see what really happened; with the caption “Ride the Rocket it’s entertaining *shrugging and smiling emojis* I’m not surprised at all that this happened on public transit.” Because LOLZ!!

Whoops. Slipped into angry sarcasm mode for a minute. I’m back now.

Make no mistake: Everything about this encounter was influenced by race. And the other passengers just passively sat and watched. I’m hearing from a lot of my (white) friends that they didn’t see race in this encounter, and that’s understandable. We don’t have to pay attention to race because our white privilege affords us the comfort of being colourblind. Read Unpacking the Invisible Backpack by Peggy McIntosh for a really excellent primer on how white privilege affects you every day. But I assure you that for any person of colour, and especially for the young man in the video, it is at the top of their minds, especially when the woman pushed the panic strip, because for a young black man any interaction with the authorities can potentially be life or death.

So here’s my call to action: White folks, we’ve got a shit ton of privilege, and with that privilege comes awesome responsibility. When you see something like this happening, for gods’ sake, call it out. Press the effing emergency stop YOURSELF and then stick around to tell the truth. Don’t just sit there. Act. Tell the world this is NOT OKAY. Because that is what white privilege should look like.

~ karyn

This post has been edited on February 25, 2017 to add further discussion of the ways that systemic racism and white privilege contributed to the situation. No text was deleted.

Ben is not Trayvon Martin

I’m going to take one of my rare serious turns for a moment:

I am not Trayvon Martin’s mother.

Ian is not Trayvon Martin’s father.

And Ben will never be Trayvon Martin.

Ben will never know the feeling of being looked on with suspicion as he walks down the road at night (or any time).

I will never worry, when wondering why Ian isn’t home yet, that he has been stopped without cause and shot by police while reaching for his license.

Unlike actor/director of Roots and ST:TNG fame LeVar Burton, Ian won’t have to teach Ben the fundamentals of how to avoid being killed by police when stopped for the offense of driving while black:

Listen, I’m gonna be honest with you, and this is a practice that I engage in every time I am stopped by law enforcement, and I taught this to my son who is now 33 as part of my duty as a father to ensure that he knows the kind of world in which he is growing up. So when I get stopped by the police, I take my hat off and my sunglasses off, I put them on the passengers’ side, I roll down my window, I take my hands, I stick them outside the window and on the door of the drivers’ side because I want that officer to be as relaxed as he can be as he approaches my vehicle. And I do that because I live in America.

                                                                              – LeVar Burton, 2013

We will never have to worry about Ben being shot by a stranger, not because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because he was in a place he had every right to be, at a time he had every right to be there, but was born with the wrong colour skin to be able to safely assert those rights.

And if, God forbid, and I’m having trouble even typing this out, one of my children ever was murdered, it wouldn’t even cross my mind that the person responsible would walk free, smiling smugly, his or her supporters celebrating with fireworks displays, with the story of the verdict relegated to a tiny square below the (virtual) fold while the lead news story bemoans the untimely death of a troubled young (white) TV star.

Because we are white, we don’t live those realities. Our reality is very different. Heck, if I decided to steal a bike and freely admitted to it when questioned, people would probably offer to help me do it.

So what I am going to do about it?

I’m going to name my privilege. I’m not going to hide behind, “But I’m not a racist,” because that’s not good enough. The world I live in is oppressive, and I benefit while others are oppressed, and if I don’t recognize that and call it out, I am complicit.

I am not going to teach my kids colourblindness, because that’s not good enough either. They need to know that actually, we’re not all the same regardless of the colour of our skin. The way we are treated by the world is different because of the colour of our skin, and that is not okay.

I’m going to name privilege and oppression where and when I see them, and teach my children to do the same, because although it may make me uncomfortable, it’s nothing compared to what Trayvon Martin’s mother and father had to do.

~ karyn

Here are some resources for talking to your children about race:

How do you talk to kids about race? This guide can help.

RACE: The Power of an Illusion (PBS)

My son is not Trayvon

Please feel free to comment with any more resources that you know of or have found helpful.