“Realizing my White Privilege on a Sunday Run”

priveledge
Photo by PoPville flickr user Ted Eytan

Ed. Note: To be honest, I’m still processing this whole thing. OP explains to me in response to my query:

“It was such a weird experience – I almost wish I could track the woman down to find out whether she was part of a movement or protest. Or, it’s totally possible that she was just crazy. In any case, it had an impact on me for sure.”

Regardless of how it happened, as far as the conclusion: “White Americans cannot sit idly by and let People of Color do all of the work to bridge the undeniable racial divide in this nation.” To that I do agree.

“Dear PoPville,

Realizing my White Privilege on a Sunday Run

Two miles into this run and I’m really in a groove. I have made it a habit of going on a long run in downtown DC on Sunday afternoons as a chance to reflect and get some good exercise in before kicking off the work week. Today’s air is especially crisp and clear, and I am relishing every step of this run, as I know today could very well be the last mild Sunday before the polar vortex descends upon the city and hovers above for what will feel like eternity (i.e. until March).

The two mile mark on my usual path happens to be at the Trump International Hotel, a sight that, over the past few months, has generally elicited visceral responses of anger, disgust and disappointment considering the divisive state of affairs in our country. Today, my mindset is different. Perhaps I have been moved by a rush of Thanksgiving-induced gratitude over the past few days. As a gay, white man, life has moved forward pretty much as normal after the election, despite my worst fears. I wasn’t laid off. The stock market didn’t crash. No one is calling for gays to be rounded up into camps (yet). Washington hasn’t descended into chaos. I am feeling cautiously optimistic that a Trump presidency won’t have as much of an impact on my day-to-day life as I initially thought during my post-election grieving period.

As I trot passed the hotel entrance, I notice a young (early 20’s), female, black woman begin to jog alongside me. At first, I think that our paths have coincidentally overlapped for a few moments, but then I see that the woman is wearing dress slacks and a sweater, and she is carrying a messenger bag – definitely not your typical DC jogging attire. I skip to the other side of the sidewalk, and it becomes apparent that the woman is following me. She skips alongside me and begins mirroring my every move. A little unnerved, I ask “Can I help you?”

She replies, staring straight into my soul, “I don’t know, can you?”

Overloaded on endorphins and drenched in sweat, the following thoughts start rushing into my head: “Am I about to be mugged?” “Should I pause Spotify and call the police?” “What does this person possibly want from me?” Before I get the chance to ask, she presents me with a question.

“Do you work for the government?”

“No” I say. “Just trying to enjoy an afternoon jog.”

“Interesting” she replies. “I can’t stand the government.”

I am sufficiently freaked out.

We run along for a few more moments as she continues to copy my every move. Each time we make eye contact, she moves a little closer to me. At some points, she is less than a foot away from me and I worry that we may collide. Eager to ditch her, I ignore a “Don’t Walk” signal and dart across a busy street, weaving through oncoming traffic to get across. The woman follows me as closely as my shadow.

“How long are you planning to follow me for?” I ask shrewdly.

“Probably to the Museum of American History. Seems fitting right, a shrine to your kind.”

I start to digest her statements and speculate as to why this could be happening. The woman must be trying to prove a point. She is throwing it in my face that I am white and therefore responsible for all of the horrible things that have happened to black and brown people since America’s inception. I think to myself, “I’m not your guy. I’m progressive when it comes to race. I have black and brown friends. I worked in public education for almost 10 years, trying to improve schools for students of color. I’m not like one of those white people in the middle states who voted for Trump and doesn’t seem to be phased by people like Steve Bannon finding their way into the new presidential administration.

The defense I am building in my head is abruptly interrupted. “You are starting to turn quite PINKKK,” drawing out the word ‘pink’ in an almost condescending tone. “Am I flustering you?”

For reasons that I can’t explain or rationalize, this strikes a nerve in me. This woman has been following me for about five minutes now, and I want her to go away. And not question my self-proclaimed anti-racism.

“You know, it’s awfully harsh to judge me based on the color of my skin,” I snap.

Instantly, I realize the horrific irony of this statement. I wish I could grab the words and pull them back into my mouth. But I can’t, and my naivety is immediately confirmed by the woman’s response. “EXACTLY.”

With that, the woman peeled off our shared path as I continued running. I glanced back at her to find her looking up at the pink and gold sunset in front of Museum of American History’s entrance, seemingly praying or communicating with a higher power, although I will never be sure.

I continue my run, at first trying to shake this odd series of events. The further I run, the more the woman’s statements sound off in my mind. As a white person, It has been easy for me to block out the tragic implications and consequences of the 2016 election. Even as a gay man, I can blend in pretty easily, especially in DC. I’m typically not judged for simply walking down the street in a hoodie or for wearing the “wrong” type of clothing; or for entering a store that typically doesn’t see patrons like me; or for going for a simple jog in my neighborhood. For better or worse, I reap the benefits of white privilege. My encounter today served as a reminder that so many Americans do not share this privilege and face unwarranted discrimination and prejudice every single day.

I’m not exactly sure how to best support the evolution of American society on race. But, I realized today that my active participation is essential. White Americans cannot sit idly by and let People of Color do all of the work to bridge the undeniable racial divide in this nation. I’m not sure exactly what my jogging companion set out to accomplish when she started following me this afternoon, but I can assure you that she reinforced my commitment as an ally today. I will stand up and fight against racial inequities today and always, even if it’s difficult and uncomfortable, and regardless of who is in the White House.”

107 Comment

  • Does anyone know if there is a German word for enjoying the smell of one’s own fart?

  • Writing a fictional story to try and promote OP’s agenda. Not a bad agenda at all, not saying that, just saying this is a bit of a silly way to go about it.

  • Dan, will you be regularly featuring creative writing on your blog, or is it just an occasional item? I almost LOLed picturing these two people running (not walking, not jogging, RUNNING) and carrying on such an in-depth, prolonged conversation. This would get a solid B-plus in a Screenwriting 101 college course.

  • Yeah, I don’t get this. I don’t think my initial reaction to this woman saying I was turning pink was to say “don’t judge me by the color of my skin.” Painful read

  • Yeah….That happened…

  • northeazy

    Pretty assumptive of your jogging companion to assume you’re American. Maybe you’re Canadian or Australian. But I guess all us Europeans look the same. Next time you go for a run, why don’t you follow a black woman and engage her in a race conversation. let us know how that goes. I’m sure she’ll be equally moved. Maybe blame her for Trump, because, ya know, if blacks and women turned out for Hillary in the same numbers they turned out for Obama in WI, MI and PA, Hillary would be president So blame black women instead of amorphous white men in middle America.

    Although, as a gay man, Trump is probably planning to throw you in a “camp” soon so maybe Canada is more appealing. Besides, Trump has never made any negative comments about gays, but that doesn’t matter. He isn’t a secular progressive Lib like you, so obvi he hates gays.

    I think your assumption that she was crazy is dead on. As Trump would say, “go with your gut.”

    • jim_ed

      He chose a Vice President who literally thinks you can electrocute the gay out of people, so I think he’s made his positions to the LGBT community quite clear.

      • Fake news according to snopes:

        WHAT’S FALSE: Pence never stated that he supported the use of electric shocks or “gay conversion” therapy.

        • Hey, I can selectively copy and paste too!
          From Pence’s website:
          “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
          Sounds like gay conversion therapy to me.

        • He absolutely supported funding gay conversion therapy. While he did not explicitly support electroshock therapy, that is often a part of gay conversion therapy exercises. Not always, but can be.

          So, it’s a safe bet he at the very least believes gay conversion therapy works (it doesn’t) and that it is something the government should fund (it isn’t), which tells you something about what the thinks about people who are gay (not much).

    • I won’t defend the ridiculous post, but I will simply make a few points as to why your equally nonsensical reply comment deserves to be ignored.

      More black folks might have turned out in places like WI in particular had aggressive voter ID laws not been passed since 2012, disenfranchising 300,000 residents of WI alone and far more in places like NC and elsewhere. Or the law in Ohio that wiped even more registered voters off the rolls if they did not vote in 2012. So no, don’t blame it all on the black folks who stayed home that Hillary lost. Some probably tried and were unable to vote. And I’m guessing by the time the counting is done, Hillary will be pretty close to or have more votes than Obama did in 2012.

      Trump may not have a laundry list of things he’s said that offend gay people, but he picked Mike Pence as his running mate, which is sufficient evidence to at least question the idea of whether he likes gays or not. He’s also appointed an anti-gay, anti-Trans person to lead Health & Human Services. He’s put an anti-gay homophobe on his national security team. He is considering a virulently anti-gay woman to lead the Dept. of Education. So sorry, but simply failing to call me a faggot to my face doesn’t mean I’ll presume you won’t throw me under the train at the first chance you get.

      I think it was assumptive of the jogger to assume he was American because well, we’re in America. We are not in Canada or Europe. That all said, I think this story is hogwash and probably not the right place for the conversation, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a conversation worth having.

      • So Voter ID laws in which I must prove who I am in order to vote are to blame?? I should have thrown an outrage her in DC when I was asked for my Drivers License to prove who I am. This is Ludicrous! With so much Identity Theft going on in this country, I seriously find it hard to believe that legal residents can’t get a photo ID, which in many states is free for those unable to afford one. So lets move on from this excuse please….

        • Lower income and older people are less likely to have up-to-date photo id’s (if you can’t afford a car, why would you pay for a license?), and if you include additional restrictions, like requiring that the address on your id (which often requires a fee to change) match your voting address, you’re limiting more people of lesser means who are also more likely to move more often. There have been a tiny, minuscule number of actual cases of voter fraud, certainly not enough to merit the rush to pass these laws.

        • Yeah! My anecdotal evidence and gut suggest this voter ID mumbo jumbo is all wrong so you can take your facts and empirical evidence and shove it! All this identity theft has made it so easy to get free photo IDs. Lets move on from facts, please!

        • Voter ID laws don’t address any problem that has been proven to exist (a handful of cases out of millions of votes).

          These laws, and those that rolled back early voting, voting by mail, and other ways of getting MORE people voting are an obvious effort by the GOP to make it harder for the poor, people of color, and others to voter (because the demographics favor the Democrats).

          It is unconscionable. Those who deny this was the intention all along are either incredibly naive, ill-informed, or lying. But hey, what’s one more lie in the age of Trump?

      • northeazy

        Pence nor Trump ever called for rounding up gays and tossing them in camps. This talk is dangerous. Some low information gays like the OP actually believe it.

    • Blithe

      94% of black women who voted, voted for Hillary. Some 53% of white women and 63% of white men who voted, voted for Trump, Many black women know this. Please don’t follow me and attempt to “engage (me) in a race conversation”. As you can easily surmise, such a conversation will likely not go well.

      • But if it did happen, your letter would be much better than this poster’s. As in, I wouldn’t want to punch myself in the eye after reading it.

      • northeazy

        Talking about turnout, not level of lockstep Democrat support by those who actually voted.

        • Blithe

          Statistics, if you have them, might better make your point. In the 2012 election, black women — with 70% — had the highest voter turnout of any demographic group reported. If you have statistics for 2016, I’d be interested in seeing them. As to “lockstep support” — you seem to be playing it both ways. Either blaming “blacks and women” for not turning out for Hillary in “the same numbers “that they did for Obama , or assuming that some votes — but apparently not all — represent some sort of “lockstep support”. Again, statistics rather than assertions might better make your point. Sheesh.

  • Whether this story is real or not, I do not know…but I do doubt the credibility of the author actually being a habitual runner. Most runners would never, ever say they were out “jogging” or wearing “jogging attire.” Shudder.

  • I think we found a contender for the future liberal Peggy Noonan writer…?

  • What a ridiculous story.
    I would have had a few choice words for the jogging instigator.

  • No disrespect to the author of the “article” but this is complete and utter garbage. I don’t even know where to begin on this one so I’m not even going to bother. I normally am all for the articles you post, PoP, but this one leaves me bewildered. Zero takeaways whatsoever.

  • I think this post got some smarm on my keyboard.

  • Someone needs to get a hobby.

  • Reading this statement, I don’t know what to think. I assumed the person allegedly following the white guy had some mental health issues. Last night driving up 13th Street, NW coming from the Harris & Teeter in Adams Morgan, I saw a young white male jogging up 13th Street, NW near Arkansas Avenue, NW around 7:45 p.m. wearing ear phones. What came to my mind, is this young man crazy jogging at night wearing ear phones because criminals might rob, hurt, or kill him regardless of his skin color. I am tired of reading race baiting stories. As a black middle aged man, I do realize that white privilege exist. However, I am not going to let this stop me from living my life. I am a black Democrat and I voted for Donald Trump because I despised Hillary Clinton. Some blacks views the Clintons or all white people as racist regardless of whether they’re Republicans or Democrats.

    • So, you refused to vote for Hillary because you think her husband might be racist based on (I’m guessing) some of the tenuous arguments we heard from Bernie and his supporters during the primaries, but chose instead to vote for the Republican candidate who we know is a racist. But you call yourself a Democrat. Mmhmm.

      Well, at least if you’re reading this, your vote probably got overwhelmed by the many black people who are incapable of logical reasoning and voted for Hillary.

      • *are capable of logical reasoning…

      • How do you know Hillary isn’t a closet racist? I am sure most whites have used the N word in private with other whites or made racist comments about blacks or non white Latinos. I remember the fair skin news reporter, Barbara Harrison on NBC 4 stated, she attended a DC affair years aog with her white husband and she heard some racist comments coming from some whites because they assumed, she was white, not black. Remember the 1 drop rule applied in the U.S. for centuries. It didn’t matter if you looked white, if you had an ancestry to blacks, you were considered black. Lena Horne and Adam Clayton Powell could have past for white.

        • Nupe says “I am sure most whites have used the N word in private with other whites or made racist comments about blacks or non white Latinos.”

          um, no. Just no. Never. And none of my friends or acquaintances to this either. In fact, I would say “most whites who are like me” will unfriend anyone who uses this word.

        • ” I am sure most whites have used the N word in private with other whites or made racist comments about blacks or non white Latinos.”

          I’m pretty sure you’re wrong on that count. None of my friends or family have ever used that word in my presence, nor have I ever used it, because I’m not a racist, and I don’t associate with racists. Over my twenty-year work history I have heard exactly one person use that word, on one occasion, and that was back in the 1990s.

          Back during undergrad there were a few guys in my dorm who used racist slurs for some of the Middle Eastern students on our floor, but they were the exception and not the rule.

        • You are wrong. No one in my majority-white family or majority-white social circle has ever used the n-word in my hearing. Well, maybe my granddad. He died when I was 10. So it’s been 30+ years since I’ve heard a white person I know use that word.
          And Shawnnn’s question was a good one: You won’t vote for the person you think MIGHT be racist, but you will vote for the person you KNOW is racist?

        • Ignoring that whether Hillary is a closet racist implies that she isn’t at least an overt open racist (like Trump), I will say that yes, I have heard that word used by members of my white family when I was a child. That or “colored” by my older relatives. That said, in my adult life, I have never used that word and cannot recall anyone using that word in front of me other than a few family members in the deep south who have used it once and after getting an earful from me about how nasty they are for doing it, never did again. No, white people in my experience do not go around behind closed doors saying racist things about black or Latino people.

          Look, I won’t pretend there aren’t a lot of overtly racist and many closet racist white people out there. Of course there are. And that even the ones who aren’t racist, don’t still suffer from implied biases about blacks and Latinos. But bias runs in all directions and I have plenty of black and Latino friends who openly mock white people for a variety of stereotypes about white people. I let it go for the obvious reason that I have never been institutionally mistreated for being white because our institutions are set up not to mistreat me for being white. It’s part of the privilege the OP was *trying* to talk about (I think).

          But that has nothing to do with voting for someone you assume is racist because you assume all white people are racist. Or not voting for Hillary because you think she’s racist (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) but being willing to vote for Trump who was literally sued by the federal government for discriminating against black people in his one and only profession and who during the campaign made disparaging comments about Mexicans and Muslims.

    • “Harris & Teeter”

  • My initial responses to Popville posts don’t always align with the other commenters, but I’m very pleased to learn that this one did. Eye rolls for days.

  • I’d rate this uberwoke race relations fan-fiction 5/5 safety pins.

  • I believe it’s jogging or yogging. it might be a soft j. I’m not sure but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild.

  • I think almost everyone can support the overriding agenda, but when you try to put that agenda across with such a ridiculous narrative, the message is lost. If this event somehow wasn’t completely fiction as it reads, you may want to take a more straightforward approach in retelling next time.

  • I thought this post was going somewhere, and then very quickly realized it was not. Probably the most pointless read yet.

  • “Seems fitting, right? A shrine to your kind,” is up towards the top of things no human has ever said ever. But even if it hadn’t, it would be well beyond the boundaries of belief thanks to all the little bougie brand-drops added to emphasize the writer’s privilege (when retelling an actual event that happened in reality, who would feel a need to mention Spotify rather than just “music”?).

  • Looking to get in on the new fake news trend, popville?

  • I like the part where she was somehow staring straight into your soul. While running.

  • You all realize this is why Trump won, yes?

    • Because not enough people took the time to write political fan fiction? Quite prescient of you.

      • Misuse of high school vocabulary while attempting snark? Also a reason Trump won.

        • You have to blame anti-intellectualism, too. The kind that derides a rich vocabulary as “high school”.

          • Labeling certain vocabulary as “high school” is also rather accurate, unless ones finds memorizing SAT word banks a typical Saturday affair.

          • Do you think that it is normal to forget what one learned in high school? Perhaps you think that learning things is lame and square. Or, in the case of most internet ridicule, *people* who learn things and use them are lame and square.

        • I beg to differ with misuse. Your comment clearly implied some awkward paternal condescension – “I told you this would happen and nobody listened! Now where was I?” Sorry if you misunderstood.

          • And yours, Anon, is perhaps an equally awkward attempt to justify your misuse of the word “prescient.” In fact, I never told anyone this would happen. In hindsight, the progressive obsession with all things race — and whatever inspired the OP to draft this absurd email — didn’t exactly serve the country well and helped give us President Trump. Perhaps I should have been prescient about it but, alas, I was not.

          • That’s fine, we don’t have to agree.

  • I’ll take it for what it is.

    Thank you.

  • thanks for a good laugh. Awareness ftw.

  • So you’re judged by your skin color because your white, and somehow feel that’s white priveledge? I’m confused

  • jim_ed

    It reminds me of the hilariously awful first person pieces Gawker used to run on the weekends, where #woke rich kids would self flagellate in the most absurd pieces to try to garner maximum signalling of their allyness. Though, FWIW, I bet this would SLAYYYYYY on ThoughtCatalog.

  • “I glanced back at her to find her looking up at the pink and gold sunset in front of Museum of American History’s entrance, seemingly praying or communicating with a higher power, although I will never be sure.”

    This is where I was like, “Oh. This is fiction.”

  • Come on. This doesn’t pass the smell test at all. Initially I was even thinking “who writes like this? It is too flowery” before I even got to the “message”. White privilege is a thing- this story detracts from it and muddys the message/doesn’t further the conversation. I think you should take the L here PoP and remove the post.

  • I just read your disclaimer:

    OP- “Regardless of how it happened, as far as the conclusion: “White Americans cannot sit idly by and let People of Color do all of the work to bridge the undeniable racial divide in this nation.” To that I do agree.”

    This seals it for me. The OP/fiction writer is even telling you the symbolism.

  • In this post, our protagonist is being judged for the color of his skin. And whether that person is white, black, or purple with pink polka dots the sad thing is that the person being judged (I might even say, harassed) feels bad/guilty/some negative emotion. This isn’t acceptable, ever.

    When are we going to stop lumping everyone into broad amorphous groups and then making sweeping stereotypes about them (“White Americans cannot sit idly by and let People of Color do all of the work”)? On the one hand we seek to promote individuality and diversity but statements like these (e.g., about all White America, about all People of Color) show that we are willing to do so only in certain situations.

    What if this story were reversed, with a white woman following a black man? I bet you we would say that the white woman was being racist. What if the antagonist called out the OP for being gay? We would say the antagonist was clearly a bigot. What if the antagonist was also White? We would say it’s not acceptable to make fun of someone with mental health issues.

    When I think about progress, the first thing that occurs to me is that we need to adopt a more nuanced view when it comes to race/religion/sexuality/whatever. We need to stop lumping people into groups. And if someone is judged by the color of their skin it is wrong. Always.

  • Is this the epilogue?

  • This is an EXCELLENT ad for a local Mace or Taser retailer!
    .
    **spritz** **spritz** >>BUZZ<>BUZZ<< keeps the crazies away who start following you.
    .
    Or a simple phone call to the cops. If you *really* want to recognize what white privilege looks like, sad to say, but the truth is this: call the cops and tell them you're being chased down the street in broad daylight by a black or brown person and then watch the response.

    • This is what did it for me! I don’t care WHAT color you are, nobody is jogging/following me for an extended period of time without getting dropped. Just creepy.

  • so this is a total lie– for what purpose? trying to preach a lesson? practice creative writing? I don’t know, but I do know that white privilege doesn’t’ apply when you’re being stalked while jogging

  • Hold the fucking phone. You’re the one who got all scared by a black lady and thought you were going to be mugged. And the black lady is the one who got all bigoted and confrontational.

    And you’re having the balls to preach to the rest of the world in some embellished fantasy land creative writing allegory? Sounds like you both were meant for each other and you both have some sort of messianic complex and you’re both pretty racist! You should have gotten her number.

    I believe about 10% of this happened. Which was runner[walker] was frightened by crazy black lady and crazy black lady acted crazy.

    • I worried I’m about to be mugged whenever someone gets up close to me and starts acting strangely (in fact, I just got freaked out earlier when a white women on the street started engaging with me in an odd way). Race has nothing to do with whether you get a weird vibe from a situation.

  • I don’t know whether this story is true or not but I’ll go with PoP on this one and just agree with the ultimate conclusion. But I will expand it to say that it’s not just up to any economic, racial, religious, or gender subgroup to bridge economic, racial, religious, or gender divides. Those of us who are not part of the subgroup need to be allies in the effort.

  • As sad as it is, everyday we read about muggings and street robbery in this town, and I don’t have the factual numbers here to post, but it seems that more times than not, it is crime committed by black teenagers and young black males. So no, I don’t think it is racist to wonder if you are about to be mugged. I think that is a learned reaction and behavior from living in a city where this sort of crime is prevalent. It will never get better unless we start enforcing the laws and locking criminals up. And before I get blasted with that isn’t the answer, all I can say, it IS the answer for me to leave in this city without fear of being mugged.

  • I wonder if the woman mistook the OP for a politician. OP, do you bear any resemblance to some Republican scumbag?

  • justinbc

    “White Americans cannot sit idly by and let People of Color do all of the work to bridge the undeniable racial divide in this nation.”
    Pat yourself on the back all you want, but this has absolutely never been the case in this country. If you think any of the strides that have been made towards equality over the last several hundred years would have been possible without whites and blacks working together to accomplish them then you truly are ignorant.