I have written and erased the beginning of this post multiple times. Because I am at a loss for words. People use that expression so frequently without stopping to think what it really means. Being at a loss for words. Feeling so much inside but somehow lacking the ability to find words to capture the emotion. And so you sit with the feelings, and they swirl around inside of you-touching your heart and your mind and your fingertips. And you open your mouth to reflect, to say something to summarize what is going on inside of you, but you can’t find the words because words are insufficient and empty.
Yesterday news broke that Alton Sterling, a husband and a father, had been fatally shot by a white police officer in Baton Rouge (http://abcnews.go.com/US/slain-baton-rouge-mans-son-breaks-mom-addresses/story?id=40370065). And later that afternoon, his wife got to stand in front of reporters with her 15 year-old son weeping by her side and discuss “what happened”. What happened was her husband was murdered. What happened was that child’s father was murdered. Plucked from this earth because his life is considered less important, less valuable than others. This morning, driving back leisurely from my morning workout, not a care in the world, I got a Google alert that Philando Castile had been stopped for a broken taillight and fatally shot in front of his girlfriend and her four year-old daughter (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/07/07/minn-cop-fatally-shoots-man-during-traffic-stop-aftermath-broadcast-on-facebook/). I sat in the driveway watching my two white children run through the backyard, collect sticks, pick up acorns and race their bikes. I looked specifically at my white son and watched him dance and wiggle and shake through the morning sunlight.Through a system built to protect him-built to prioritize him-built to value him above others. And that’s the goddamn truth isn’t it? The system that we operate in, values my son’s life more than that of our neighbor’s son who is black and the same age. I cried in the car while I watched him and then I felt guilty for crying because I’m not the one suffering. I’m the one with a son who the cops don’t want to kill.
Parents know what worry feels like. That soul-crushing anxiety that wakes us in the night like ninjas ready to battle and destroy anything trying to harm our children. The worry that keeps our heart beating fast and our mind racing. We worry about molesters, child predators, tornadoes, car wrecks, drunk drivers, cancer, drugs, bullies, school pressure, eating disorders, terrorism, depression, mental illness and so on. It’s terrifying to be a parent.
But you know what I don’t worry about? What has never crossed my mind? What has never woken me in the night sweating?
That a police officer will shoot my son. That a police officer will fail not only to protect my son, but put him in harm’s way. That is mother fucking privilege.
On those occasions when I wake from sleep, worrying about terrorism or tornadoes hitting my children, my cortisol rises. My heart rate speeds up. My blood pressure soars. My organs suffer. And then I reassure myself that everything is ok, that we are safe, that we have resources, that we have money, that WE will be ok…and I go back to sleep. My cortisol lowers, my heart rate slows down and my blood pressure decreases. My organs are healed. When a person is consistently worried, when a person is consistently inundated with trauma-with images of people who look just like their children being murdered in cold blood, their cortisol doesn’t lower. Their heart rate stays up. Their blood pressure continues to soar. Their organs continue to suffer. I had a black friend tell me once that being black felt like “their insides were like a car that had the gas pedal revved at all times”. I don’t feel that way. I don’t spend my life, my days on this planet feeling that way. Why? Because I’m white.
And today I find myself at a loss for words. And let’s not forget, being “at a loss for words” after two more African-American men are murdered is in itself a fucking privilege. I can be “at a loss for words” because I don’t have to sit my son down tonight and warn him about the dangers of sitting in a car while black; walking down the street in a hoodie while black; being stopped for a broken tail light while black.
And if that isn’t the definition of privilege, I don’t know what is.