Let’s talk privilege

I cried when I heard of the lives lost in the senseless Istanbul airport attack. I felt sick. I was horrified; I was angry. I was scared; I considered the frequency with which lives were taken in a place I’d visited several times and even had family – lives of people I identified with religiously, racially and even ethnically.

I was horrified when I heard of the senseless police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I was angry; I felt deeply sad.

But I did not cry; I did not suddenly fear for my life. In a way, I am ashamed to admit that. After all, I, too, am a person of color by definition, a minority, a member of a marginalized community who has been and is routinely targeted and subject to discrimination. However, as much as I know and understand what it feels like to be a target of hostility, racism, bigotry, and discrimination from politicians and officials and society as a whole due to my ethnicity or religion, I do not and will never fully know what it feels like to be black in America – or Latino, for that matter, what with the lives of 3 Latinos having been taken this week by police officers as well. (Media coverage has been practically nonexistent, but that Pandora’s box to be left unopened in this piece.)

I am fair-skinned (at least, fairer-skinned than the archetypal Middle-Eastern). I do not wear a hijab. I attend a reputable college and am socioeconomically advantaged. I have one of the most popular names given to newborn females in the United States over the past several decades. And those are just a few of the privileges I have and recognize as a PoC.

After the deadly attack at the Istanbul airport that killed 36 and injured 147, Turkish flags flew at half staff.

After the deadly attack at the Istanbul airport that killed 36 and injured 147, Turkish flags flew at half staff.

These facets mean that I don’t necessarily fear for my life on a day-to-day basis in the U.S. I do not face many of the same experiences as so many of my friends and peers and other persons of color do, and in light of recent events, it is especially important that many non-black PoC recognize that.

I stand in unwavering solidarity with my black friends – at protests and rallies, on social media, as a fellow minority and PoC. I am aware – or at least try to remain as aware as I can – of the little worth ascribed to black lives and a fundamentally flawed (or rather, nonexistent) criminal justice system. I realize how important the intersectionality of the struggles and experiences of different marginalized communities are, including Muslims, Blacks, Latinos, and Asian-Americans.

Still, each “people’s” – each group’s – struggles and experiences are its own, disparate and different. That means limits exist to my understanding and ability to empathize. And by recognizing that, I refuse to make blanket statements, i.e., the struggles that we, as persons of color, face today. I am uncomfortable with such collectivization within the identity politics we treacherously attempt to navigate.

We always hear the term “white privilege” and condemn it, but perhaps now it’s not a matter of white people checking their privilege, but of some persons of color checking their privilege, or at least recognizing it. Recognition of our different experiences, and notably our respective privileges as PoC (as paradoxical as that may seem within a modern-day context) is integral to empathy, solidarity, and activism and lessens the probability of conflating issues, but allows us to also remain conscious that these are not single-issue struggles by any means.

I want to be able to support and understand what it feels like to be black in America as much as I can, but I will not pretend or claim to know what it feels like. That is also an injustice to people who truly know what it feels like, and arguably detrimental to the unity of PoC.

This piece by Sarah Sakha originally appeared on Medium.com

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