By The GlimmerGlass, Editorial Board
Anyone who has a social media account has seen this story on their feed repeatedly: ‘Unarmed teen, Michael Brown, gunned down by police.’
In the past month, several accounts of what occurred that afternoon in Ferguson, Missouri, arose. Now that autopsies have been performed and more witnesses have come forward, the prevailing story seems to be that Brown had his hands up to signify surrender when he was executed by the assaulting officer, Darren Wilson.
It’s a tragic tale, but not a new one. Police brutality is an issue that plagues several communities – especially in urban areas that largely consist of racial minorities.
For example, if you were to Google unarmed + black + man + killed + by + police, the search would result in endless accounts of black people who have been brutalized by officers. Type in unarmed + white + man + killed + by + police, and you’d get close to nothing.
White privilege is a term used to describe the advantages that are given to members of the white race over those who belong to other – minority – races. These advantages cover a large spectrum, from attainable Eurocentric beauty ideals and better job opportunities to a lesser likelihood of being murdered by police.
White privilege is not a pretty phrase and many people misunderstand its implications. Some think that it means “white people have easy lives.” Instead, white privilege should be understood as “white people should have easy lives,” a mindset that is the result of systems set up to ensure that members of the white race have better opportunities to achieve basic life goals.
One of these basic life goals is obtaining work. A man named Jose Zamora put this to the test. In the BuzzFeed Yellow video Zamora explains that for months, he sent out between 50 and 100 job resumes daily without any response. He then decided to drop the “S” in his name, changing “Jose” to “Joe.” His inbox was soon full. This is known as “white washing” a resume, and is done by people of color to remove clues that could reveal their racial background. The New York Times reports that employers are likely to consciously or subconsciously discriminate against applicants with names that sound black or Latino.
But the advantage applies to much more than a job application. Minorities are more likely to get stopped and searched, arrested, and pay heavier penalties for the same crimes than their white counterparts. Minorities are portrayed both in news media and in syndicated television in a way that distorts and even demonizes their culture (i.e. Asians as deceitful, Hispanics as drug lords, Middle Eastern people as terrorists and blacks as uneducated thugs).
Beauty standards favor European features as the ideal: smooth hair texture, fair skin, defined nose bridge. Anyone who falls outside of those standards is inferior – which can devastate the self-esteem of young men and women of color.
Though we’d like to think that the lack of “For Coloreds” and “For Whites” signs labeling restrooms and bathrooms signifies that we live in a post-racial society, the seating arrangements at meal time in Ludwig seem to more closely reflect the ideas of the 50s and 60s (albeit by choice.)
During the 2014 leadership retreat just before school started, speaker Eric Crews relayed a message of a group of attendees to hundreds of students : the biggest barrier to forming relationships on Olivet’s campus is stereotypes.
One of the students who spoke to Crews was junior Jada Fisher, who says that racial stigmas are held both on and off campus.
For a society who claims to want equality, we don’t seem to want move away from the hierarchy that destroys the chances of it. For a body of faith that claims to value unity, we still hold fast to old prejudices that define those that are different from ourselves and drive us apart.
Last semester, one video played throughout a series of chapel that begged the question: Who is welcome at your table? This analogy was meant to have students assess their own prejudgements and how it influences how they treat others. But does this metaphor go deep enough?
“Coming from a predominantly black community, it has been during my time here at Olivet that I have experienced the most racial prejudice,” said Executive Editor Destiny Mitchell. “I was no longer me, I was ‘the black girl,’ ‘the black friend.’ Who I was and what someone needed to know about me was defined by my color.
“I have been asked to the table; I have been welcomed into many circles with smiling eyes, but cut down with isolating words about my hair, skin, language, and cultural background. And though many students do not behave this way, enough do to make it an issue.”
When approaching someone different from you, you can’t just take them at face value. You have to navigate deeper until you discover their unique spirit.
It does no good to invite someone to the table if you don’t let them eat.