White privilege should not be comforting

I am a young white girl. One day last summer, while posting Equal Rights Amendment signs throughout Richmond, a closing coffee shop gave me their remaining baked goods. I took them to give to homeless people.

I had happened upon a friend along the way, and we walked up to a black homeless man. He did not want the food, but he stopped us, looked me straight in the eye, and painfully said—“Why?”

He explained that he had been to jail, that he was left on the street, that he did nothing wrong. A degree of mental instability was present, so it took me a while to understand him. He asked why reality had turned out that way, as if I were in the position to answer.

Gesturing to my friend, who is of Italian descent with darker skin, he said, “I wouldn’t do anything to her. But I’d do something to you.”

For the first time in my life, someone looked me dead in the eye and made me confront my privilege. He left me with a challenge that day, which I now pass on to my white counterparts.

Too many people like him have fallen victim to a society that was built by us for us. I don’t care what a white person’s intentions might be today. It doesn’t matter that I was handing out posters for equality or delivering food. The point is that I felt no reservations to be out at all because I had no reason to believe that I wasn’t protected.

I knew that law enforcement wouldn’t see me as a threat. I could go to my apartment without fear of being killed. I had an apartment.

The comfort we feel is privilege. That fact cannot be comforting.

Morgan Johns


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