Sometimes it’s hard to explain the concept of privilege — in order to see your own unique privilege, you have to try to imagine what it would be like to be in another person’s skin — to see things from their point of view.. to see how you can do something that seems reasonable and get away with it while another person can’t. We don’t know that other people can’t do X, when we can do X — until we look and think and reflect.
Right now I’m in a northern suburb of Orlando — in a gated community no more than 10 miles or so from Sanford FL — the place that George Zimmerman killed Trevon Martin for, in essence, being a young black man with a bag of skittles. Zimmerman and Martin were within the walls of a gated community, probably a bit like this one…
The way I understand the night Martin died is something like this..
Martin was walking home from the store, he’d been there to get a snack.
Zimmerman had previously formed a neighborhood watch group because, in his mind, there had been a series of break-ins by black folks in his neighborhood —
Martin had the bad luck to be walking behind Zimmerman.
Zimmerman took it as a threat, called the cops and went to get his own gun.
Zimmerman began following Martin.
Martin, seeing a white dude with a gun and a flashlight, reasonably thought he was being threatened and stood up for himself.
There was some kind of tussle — the details are only known to Zimmerman, because Martin is dead.
Zimmerman shot Martin.
SOOO — Think about this with the perspective of who has what kinds of background assumptions about the way the world works —
Martin lived as a young black man in central Florida — he knew the score in terms of how the races interact here. He knew that white folks didn’t see him the same way they saw young white men. Martin knew that if a white man is following you with a gun, there’s gonna be trouble…
Zimmerman claims he was defending himself when Martin “attacked” him, thus he needed to shoot. In Zimmerman’s eyes, he wasn’t doing anything threatening before Martin attacked him… that seems to be his privilege showing — How can it NOT be the case that if you’re following a person while holding a gun — especially someone you’re seeing for the second time that evening — that the person won’t feel threatened?
Zimmerman had grown up with the perspective of a white male in a society that gives white males the power. White males can go to most places without fear — and for certain they can walk in their own neighborhoods at night without fear of being assaulted due to their race, or raped because someone thinks what they’re good for is sex and nothing else.
IF Zimmerman had been black, he’d have been foolish to assume that following someone while holding a gun isn’t an extremely threatening thing to do. That difference is privilege. When one person can expect to do something that a person of another race/gender etc.. can’t… in the same circumstances etc… that difference is privilege pure and simple.
The thing about privilege is that it’s based in all of our interactions with the world — Martin’s interactions were very different than Zimmerman’s. Zimmerman was sure, based on his prior experiences, that he was doing the right thing by defending himself from a kid holding a bag of skittles and doing something as threatening as walking at night wearing a hoodie.
Martin grew up steeped in the society in which Zimmerman’s privilege is a fact of life… while he may have questioned it, it’s kind of like questioning other aspects of the culture — you may end up being quite sure that you’re right and that privilege is a wrong thing, but you can’t do anything about it.
By way of contrast read this story… The basics of it are that a woman was trying to defend herself against an abusive spouse. She fired WARNING shots within her own home to try to prevent him from harming her. She already had a restraining order against him. She got 20 years in prison — and Zimmerman went free after KILLING a person. The mom is black, Zimmerman is white — and Martin was black. The differences are stark and depressing.