A True Story of White Privilege.

At one point, when I was in college, I owned one pair of pants, three pairs of underwear and I had a hole in the sole of my left shoe. On rainy days, my sock would get wet, start flopping and eventually work its way out of the hole and come off my foot. Then I had to carry a soggy sock around in my pocket all day. I would take my calculator to the grocery store, so I didn’t exceed my weekly food budget: $14. My diet consisted mainly of Ramen Noodles, Minute Rice and government cheese. One time, when I had just started a job and was waiting for the two weeks it takes to get your first check, I ate nothing but popcorn for a week and a half.

Jim Nelson
Jim Nelson

Did I have white privilege? You’re F’N right I did.

White privilege is an imprecise term, because the word privilege connotes money. It’s easy for a lot of white people who came up the hard way to think “Nobody gave me anything. I worked for what I’ve got”. But at the most fundamental level, money is not what it’s about.

During those days, I had a job stocking shelves at a grocery store that started at 4:30 a.m. I was pulled over three times on my way to work by three different cops because I had a headlight out that I couldn’t afford to fix. I didn’t get beaten, thrown in jail for a crime I didn’t commit, shot, put in a choke hold, or kneeled on until I died. In fact, they checked me out and let me go so fast, I wasn’t even late for work. Being late three times to that job meant automatic termination.

I didn’t have money, but I had the freedom to pursue my future in safety – without fearing for my life. 

Imagine if I had been a young black male college student running the gauntlet through an all-white part of town in St. Cloud Minnesota at zero dark thirty every morning. How safe would I be? Would my Mom be able to sleep if she knew I was doing that? Would that headlight that went out make me quit the job that paid for my rent and food because it put me in so much danger? Would I have even been able to take that job in the first place? Would I survive? I didn’t have to think about any of that crap. 

The place where Philando Castille was shot and killed is within 800 yards of my Mom and Dad’s house. He was pulled over because he had a taillight out. A couple of weeks ago, I was pulled over within a block of that place because I had a taillight out. I was on my way in five minutes and the next day, unharmed, I pulled into my local Valvoline Instant Oil Change and got a new one put in. 

That’s white privilege. 

In Minnesota black people make up about 12 percent of the population but are killed by police 13x more frequently than white people. The Minneapolis School District just severed all ties with the Minneapolis Police Department because the black and brown children who are students there are afraid of them. I was listening to a black woman on the radio the other day and she talked about the speech therapist showing her six-year-old child a picture of a mailman, a farmer and a policeman and asking, “Which one protects you?” She said her son felt bad because he couldn’t answer the question.

If you can’t see the problem or are “waiting to find out more about the George Floyd case” or don’t feel the need to say or do anything because you think it doesn’t really affect you or your family and you don’t have to live personally in fear, that’s white privilege.

That is the end of the story.