White Privilege by Heidi Hirsch
(First published on August 6, 2020)
I have started this Blog at least a half a dozen times. This has been by far the hardest one to write.
To be honest, up until a few months ago, I had a misconception of what privilege is. I thought of Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, sports stars, and celebrities. Now I understand that if you’re white, you’re privileged.
Several months ago, before we were all grounded, I took a black friend of mine to the Soup Plantation. She said, “I’ve never been here before.” I said, “You have never been to the Soup Plantation?” She said, “Yeah, probably the name.” I looked at her confused and then blurted out, “Oh! My God, it never occurred to me — it’s the word Plantation.” Thank God, she almost fell on the ground laughing.
If you think, how could I be so dense, there’s not an easy answer. I’m a white kid. Born and bred in Burbank, California. Black families didn’t live in Burbank and when they did start moving in, it was reported in the local paper. I was too young to realize the implication of the announcement of a black family moving into the neighborhood.
In my early 20s, I flew with my parents to Singapore. It was the first time I had left the US and I was amazed at the different cultures. The funny thing, looking back on this, is at the time I felt alone and insecure. People starred at me with disdain and I felt that I was being judged solely on my physical appearance. It was emotionally hurtful. I felt weird and uncomfortable and constantly wore my sunglasses to hide. However, that trip opened my eyes to different spiritual beliefs, traditions, celebrations, and so many other things that inspired my desire to learn about other people.
When I went to college, I formed friendships with school mates with different backgrounds and ethnic diversities. One of my best friends was a black gal from Chicago. We used to fly up to San Francisco on the Red-eye out of LAX on Friday nights, spend the weekend, and then fly home Sunday evening. We stayed with her father in the Projects. I didn’t think twice about it.
In 1992, the Los Angeles riots erupted over the acquittals of the four policemen charged in the beating of Rodney King. I saw the tape — was I not to believe my lying eyes? I was stunned that no one was held accountable. The black community protested by rioting. They were saying that “they did not feel protection from the police but instead were being harassed without cause.” Some good came out of this, but with the exception of a note in history, things returned to the status quo. The systemic brutality of black people was only slightly interrupted.
On May 25th, 28 years later, we watched a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes. Officer Chauvin kept the pressure on Mr. Floyd’s neck, even when Mr. Floyd said, “I can’t breathe.” There is no question, he was brutally murdered by the police as we watched in horror. This time, all hell broke loose. People of all races in the U.S. and around the world rose up and demanded police brutality against minorities had to stop now. Looking-the-other-way was no longer acceptable.
The majority of protesters were peaceful. There was a smattering of others, including instigators, that looted, broke windows, and started fires. I stared at the TV in disbelief. At the same time, I wasn’t surprised when the cameras turned to the looters and opportunists. Peaceful protesters exercising their first amendment rights became an afterthought. After all, nothing gets the ratings up like violence.
After the first day of protests, a friend of mine posted pictures of The Original Farmers Market defaced. That hit home. The Market has been a place my family and I often visited. I was infuriated. How dare they mess with my market. Boy, was I pissed and I made it very clear on Facebook. Then I got called out. I got called out big time. My cousin’s husband, Mike, was dumbfounded and clearly irritated that my only comment in all of this was what they had done to my market. And rightfully so. When I looked at my posting through his eyes I thought, “Geez Heidi, you just don’t get it, do you.” Well, now I do. I now understand why Kaepernick and other professional athletes opted to kneel when the national anthem was played. It’s a way to non-violently protest against police brutality and racism. Our country hasn’t lived up to her promises for all her people.
I am numb by the acts of cruelty that have polarized our nation. Not only have we witnessed violent conflict between BLM protestors and the police, but Covid-19 has brought about blatant stupid acts of hostility towards people of Asian heritage.
I am disgusted by hatred and division coming from the WH. #45 stating, “There are very fine people on both sides,” when asked about the protestors and the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Over half of our country now believe, and with good reason, that the man occupying the WH is a racist.
We are also in the midst of fighting a pandemic. Covid-19 has revealed the economic disparity, especially for minorities. We are seeing the results of systemic poverty and lack of healthcare in black and brown communities. They are getting sick and dying at an alarming rate. We must demand Universal Health Care and a living wage for everyone.
Those of us who are privileged have the responsibility to speak out. This is no longer an option. To my gay brothers and sisters, how many of you can tell me that you have never been discriminated against?
The LGBT community knows all about discrimination. Do I know what it feels like to be black? Of course not, but I do know what it’s like to be laughed at, made fun of, and called derogatory names. But no, I have never feared for my life at the hands of police. I have never been stopped in my neighborhood for walking my dog. Growing up, my parents never sat me down and told me what to do when a police officer approaches me. What an atrocity that a young black child growing up in this country has to have that talk.
ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER
On July 17, 2020, we lost a great civil-rights leader and LGBT ally, John Lewis. For 33 years he served our country as a US Representative. It’s time we pick up the mantle and follow his advice, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” I say it’s time to take down Confederate statues, rename military bases, buildings, and bridges that carry names of traitors to this country. Leaders of the Confederacy fought to succeed from the United States and to uphold slavery. I can now understand what it’s been like for black people to walk pass statues of men that had fought to keep the institution of slavery. I think of the Edmund Pettus Bridge where John Lewis almost lost his life. Why do we have a bridge named after a Confederate Brigadier General who also served as the Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan? My ancestors were Jewish. For me, a statue of Hitler or any other Nazi would be horrifying!
As I mentioned, this was a very difficult blog for me to write because I feel inadequate. I was ashamed of my lack of awareness and more importantly, how I squandered my privilege. This will not continue and I will never look at this world in the same way again.
Cousin Mike, thank you for opening my eyes. The truth is, I still don’t know how to respond, but I can learn.
Proud & Privileged
Heidi Hirsch lives in the Los Angeles area with two birds, a bunch of Koi, and very demanding squirrels. As a project developer for Reveal Studio, Inc. she oversees the production and development of the themed entertainment division. Heidi has recently achieved the status of “Seasoned Citizen”. In her downtime, she fancies herself as an urban farmer. “Never did I think I would get so excited over tomatoes and cucumbers without salad dressing!”.
There are several excellent books available to read. These are just a few.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum
ADDITIONAL NOTE: White Fragility – be aware there’s been some criticism that the book is condescending and talks down to the black community in its quest to showcase how oppressed they have been. Studying some reviews and articles after the fact, some of the critics’ points were well-made. I leave it up to you.
Here are also some films that are worth seeing: Selma, Harriet, Mississippi Burning, Eyes on the Prize, The Loving Story, and Best of Enemies (based on the true story of Ann Atwater & C. P. Ellis) to name a few.