Al Heggins: Black, white and blue understanding

Published 12:04 am Sunday, July 31, 2016

By Al Heggins

Special to the Salisbury Post

I am a digital immigrant. I station myself in obtrusive spots (like my daughter’s room) to beg for help.

“Uh…what’s the difference between ‘checking in’ and ‘status’ on Facebook?” She’s always amenable, but there are moments of irritation.

Unlike me, she isn’t treading the waters of the digital divide. It’s her birthright. She possesses open access to technology and maneuvers the digital landscape with minimal resistance. To her credit, she never steps away from what it means for me to not have the same digital privilege. In other words, she is an unwavering ally in this digital battle! defines privilege as a right, immunity, a benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most. Right now, I want you to take an assessment of your earned and unearned privileges. I consider some of my earned privileges to be having a graduate degree, being a commissioned officer in the military, and owning a company. I’ve invested hard work, time and money into all three.

Some of my unearned privileges are being born an American; I don’t have the threat of xenophobia over my head every minute. I am able to hear; I can attend any public meeting without having to make special arrangements to participate fully. English is my first language; I can find English speakers all over the world while traveling.

Most of us have a hard time listing our unearned privileges because we simply take them for granted. And we certainly pay no mind to how others, who don’t have the same unearned privileges, may be struggling.

A friend of mine from high school days took to Facebook a couple of weeks ago questioning white privilege. He talked about being poor growing up, living in a single-parent home, having to go into the Navy to get his education, and now as a person living with a disability. Each life aspect he listed presents its own set of challenges. But think about this; how would having black or brown skin change how he’d negotiate those aspects he considers challenging?

Let me explain it like this. By no fault of yours or mine, we live in a country (for me the greatest  country on the planet) that subscribes to a deeply ingrained and specious construct of race. Because of this construct, the privilege of being white is like a fish in water; there’s no realization of being wet. A search in the drug store for flesh colored Band-Aids renders a product that matches white skin. A trip to the bookstore for a good read that captures a culturally relevant experience doesn’t mean asking for the section on White-American life or writers. Whites in our society don’t have to wait until February to lift up their history and host special programs; it’s white history month year round.

Our men and women in blue possess privileges and immunities that average citizens don’t. I have no heartburn about what’s granted to them, because they put their lives on the line everyday. What they must be cognizant of is how this powerful framework of our specious racial construct informs their important work, how their interactions with citizens of different skin hues and hair types may not be standardized.

I believe the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement implores us to think about and then act upon how white-and-blue privilege impacts our collective daily living; whether you are black, brown, white or wear blue. It’s not about being against white people or being against law enforcement. It’s about saving all lives and bringing peace to our human interactions.

We have a responsibility to try and understand each other’s existence. And even though we may have moments of acute irritation, we must stand ground together. Let’s courageously engage each other during racial and social equity workshops and collaboratively find creative ways to change unfair systems. Ponder the privilege that gives you open access to opportunities and allows minimal resistance when maneuvering the American specious construct called race.

Al Heggins is owner and founder of the Human Praxis Institute, a Salisbury-based human relations firm specializing in building welcoming communities through racial/social equity training, mediation and strategic planning.