Perhaps one of the most influential pieces on white privilege in my life comes from Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. In it, McIntosh explores white privilege from her insider's perspective and lists how, as a white person, she assumed fair treatment within society in a number of ways that African Americans cannot assume. While she often updated this list, one area that she never pointed out, at least to my knowledge, was the assumption from white people that law enforcement was an equitable and just process.
Am I really saying that white privilege exists within law enforcement?
Yes, and here's why.
For instance, while people of color are no more likely to use drugs, African Americans are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for these crimes.
Consider that, when convicted of the same crime, a black person is twenty percent more likely to be given a mandatory minimum sentence, twenty percent more likely to enter prison, and receive sentences ten percent longer than their white counterparts.
Perhaps most related to this week as we still reel in the wake of Michael Brown's killing, black and latino persons are three times as likely to be searched than a white person when stopped by police. African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and four times as likely to experience use of force by police than whites.
I bring this all up because white people, including myself, must remember our privilege in this society at all times, and especially as we enter conversations about how to pursue justice in light of the killing of an unarmed black man. We cannot pretend that society is fair or that the system treated Michael Brown like it would have treated me if I or any white person had behaved in precisely the same way. According to the statistics, I am three times less likely to be searched, 1/2 as likely to be arrested, and 1/4 as likely to experience force, simply because I am white.
This is unjust. Now, of course I am not wishing more violence on anyone. I am, however, saying that we must not pretend white privilege doesn't exist. Our experiences are not the same, and race plays a significant part in shaping how we are seen in society.
From a Christian perspective, this is nothing short of sin, and all sorts of unjust. White Christians must find ways to speak to the dignity of our Brothers and Sisters of color that help to affect change in how our law enforcement system addresses all people.
As this conversation continues, if you are white, do not pretend that Michael Brown's killing is simply the result of a scuffle with a police officer. First, there is no evidence (as of this writing) that suggests such an encounter occurred, and more witnesses confess that Michael in no way reached for the officer's weapon. But even more fundamentally, Michael Brown was more likely to face accusations, arrest, and violence that day than any white person, simply because he was black. Whatever assumptions you bring to the table, remember that the does not treat each person with an equal measure.
If justice is to roll down like water, if righteousness is to come like an ever-flowing stream, then we must first recognize the injustice in the world, and how that unrighteousness might benefit us. We must repent. We must, above all, help God's kingdom to come and will be done here, on earth, as it is in heaven.
To do that, we must remember that one conviction and one pardon was offered to all, regardless of race, in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we are all judged the same: innocent.
And don't let the pictures you see fool you. Especially this one. He wasn't white either.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.