Opinion: Applicable only if white

“Just Sayin'” is a 2014 neon sculpture by Ti-Rock Moore and a clever commentary on the notion of white privilege — an awesome part of the awesome Louisiana Contemporary, on display at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. (Photo by Bart Everson

It’s Saturday morning in some little town that no one has ever heard of before. Book clubs are a thing here. It’s the type of town where, if you have something hanging between your legs, you play football and if not, you squeeze into a tight skirt and cheer for the boys playing.

At birth you’re showered with gifts. Some are obvious, like love and affection, while others loom quietly in the background of your life and can easily go unnoticed. One gift works in an unusual way, where those who possess it can’t see it, or perhaps choose not to. If you haven’t guessed by now, the shadowy, intangible gift I’m referring to is white privilege.

White privilege is the reason why mass shooter Dylann Roof was described as “polite” and “non-problematic” by police officers, shortly after he murdered nine innocent churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s why white mass shooters are almost explicitly described as lone wolves, troubled or mentally ill, but never terrorists.

Despite all circumstances, Roof’s whiteness allotted him the benefit of the doubt: innocent until proven guilty in the most heinous of crimes.

If a fraction of that privilege had been offered to Philando Castile he might still be alive today. Castile, a black man, a son, a law-abiding citizen, was shot seven times by officer Jeronimo Yanez during a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light. What started out as a cooperative conversation between Yanez and Castile, ended in blood bath in less than a minute.

The police dashboard camera shows evidence of Castile’s compliance and calm demeanor with Yanez. Castile provided his license and registration when asked. and willingly disclosed that he was carrying a fire arm. Castile repeated multiple times that he was not reaching for his weapon but that didn’t seem to matter to Yanez.

Later news outlets would confirm that Castile was legally carrying his firearm. Yanez neglected to ask Castile if his weapon was being carried legally and immediately opened fire with the intent to kill. A warning shot, a shot to wound, would have been enough to diffuse an aggressive or problematic situation, had there been one. Seven shots, mainly to the chest, is a clear-cut sign for intent to kill.

Yanez feared Castile, not for the weapon that he was carrying but for the color of his skin. Had Castile been the “right” shade of white maybe Yanez would have dealt with the situation differently, and by differently, I mean humanely. It’s clear that somewhere in the land of laws, rights and amendments they forgot to mention in fine print “applicable only if white.”

Privilege isn’t bound to just race. Understand that privilege comes in many forms. Privilege because of gender, socioeconomic class, mobility … the list goes on. However, pay extra attention to privilege that comes with race because it could determine if you live or die.

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