A few weeks ago I had an experience that in light of recent events in Charlottesville I feel is worth sharing.
In late July I traveled to Florida and was checking in to my hotel. A very nice “high end” hotel by all standards which caters to what would be considered the upscale traveler and conferences. As I stood in line waiting for my turn to check in I noticed something odd. With the exception of a couple hotel clerks, I was the only white person in the lobby and one of the few men. Everyone else appeared to be African American and for the most part were women. I looked around and chuckled to myself and even thought, “so this is what it’s like to be a minority.” I figured a group of some sort was checking in and didn’t think much else of it.
I was early for my meeting so I decided to go across the street to a Subway for lunch. Upon arriving I noticed a long line there so I looked walked along the strip mall to see what other options I might have. Again, I noticed something was “off.” On the sidewalk were small groups of people of color here and there, many who were teens. Each restaurant I looked into was filled with more people who’s skin was darker than mine. Even the grocery store’s deli/sandwich line was made predominantly of so-called “minorities.”
I finally settled on the Subway and waited in line as the only white man in a sea of color – and one of the oldest people in the restaurant to boot.
I finally noticed that all the teens and most of the adults had t-shirts with religious slogans (Christian) and also realized there were several vans and buses in the parking lot with the names of area African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches. The hotel I was staying at was hosting a large AME conference. Mystery solved. I finished my lunch and continued on with my day.
Why do I think this experience is significant now? Well, remember my earlier statement that I thought this is what it must be like to be a minority? Well, that thought was completely and utterly wrong. In fact, just being outnumbered by people with a different skin color barely even scrapes the surface of what I imagine is the experience of African Americans and others in this country.
Why? Because at no time did I feel unsafe or threatened. I was always treated with respect and courtesy by those I met (holding doors, etc.) and returned the same. In fact, I even felt a kinship with all these people when I discovered that they were from the AME church since I am a United Methodist and both denominations share the same Wesleyan roots. No security guard gave me a second look, no woman clutched her purse closer because I passed by, no one paid much attention to me at all in fact – except to take an order, hold a door or perhaps smile at me as they passed.
So when someone speaks about “white privilege” it’s worth remembering that many of us experience this privilege every day – even if we (white guys) didn’t get the job we thought we should have gotten or the spot on the team or any other transgression or slight or injustice we feel has befallen us.
Privilege isn’t always about the big things, but sometimes the small things that everyone should be entitled to regardless of skin color or religion.
My two cents.