Equal Time: What’s really harmful is denying racism exists

12/27/2014 10:00 AM |

Regarding Hugh Prestwood’s response to editor Michael White’s column pointing to the “nephew effect” in policing:

What time capsule did Mr. Prestwood just climb out of? Is he that naïve to think that police experiences like the “nephew effect” don’t happen to white people, through which they get the benefit of the doubt from police and society? On the flip side, does he not believe racial profiling exists? The very state in which he resides has time and again caught national attention due to racial profiling. How about 19-year-old Trayon Christian, a black male college student from Queens arrested for “BWB” (Buying While Black)? He purchased a $350 designer belt at Barneys on Madison Avenue with his debit card. Trayon produced proper ID when asked for it by the sales clerk, made the purchase and left the store. Yet he was approached by police a block away and was asked “how a young black man such as himself could afford to purchase such an expensive belt,” according to a lawsuit he later filed against the store and the city. He was handcuffed and taken for questioning. The police officers called Trayon’s bank and the bank verified the young man’s account. He was then released.

But it doesn’t have to be Barneys; we get followed out of Walmart.

According to FBI arrest records compiled and published last month by USA Today, black people get arrested at a rate nearly three times higher than that of people of other races. There are nearly 1,600 police departments in the U.S. where the disparity in arrest rates is even more pronounced than in Ferguson, Mo. In the Town of Southold, where Mr. Prestwood resides, the 2011-12 arrest rate per 1,000 residents is as follows: black; 114.3; non-black, 23.8

It is easier to deplore racism and its effects than to take responsibility for the privileges some receive as a result of it. Once people come to terms that it does exist, we can begin addressing it on an individual and institutional basis.

Privilege exists when one group of people has something of value that is denied to another group simply because of the group they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do as individuals. Having access to privilege does not determine your outcome, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability and aspirations a person with that privilege has will result in something positive for them.

Mr. Prestwood listed “black studies” as one of the programs instituted to help close the gap. Well, history and the way it’s otherwise taught actually fertilizes the breeding ground for white privilege. In our country’s educational systems, from day one, all of the pictures of explorers, great thinkers, scientists, founding fathers, etc., are all white in pigmentation. Everyone else who does not share that “likeness” is then perceived to be irrelevant, substandard, underprivileged, almost non-existing. In this way, psychologically, white privilege is ingrained from the earliest of ages. This privilege does not come about by one’s accomplishments, but by a resemblance.

Because of white privilege, Mr. Prestwood can achieve success without other people being surprised. He speaks of being an educator. Well he should know that when a black student excels academically, he or she is viewed as “extraordinary,” while a white student with the same accolades is just ordinary. These privileges allow Mr. Prestwood to go out in the public without fear of being harassed. He doesn’t have to worry about being profiled. He does not have to think about race on a daily basis. He does not have to have “the talk” with his son, where a black father must make sure his son understands that simply due to the color of his skin, people are going to make certain assumptions about him. The black son is not privileged. In fact, he will be profiled and looked at with suspicion. Any sudden move, no matter how innocent, can result in his detainment — or worse, his death.

Yet we are not bitter, Mr. Prestwood. You are. We as black people have been through hell and high water. This is not extraordinary to us. It’s ordinary. It’s the norm. The majority of us do not “whine” because this privilege not afforded to us. We recognize it and try to instill in our children the tools necessary to cope and to overcome. There is no damage there. The damage occurs when you deny that it exists, just because you as an individual never experienced it.

Carnal Hobson Jr. is a former Riverhead resident and Riverhead High School graduate who now resides in Virginia. He works as a receiving clerk for a major electronic motor firm.

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