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Don't Let Your Privilege Make You Complacent

Muskaan Arshad (United States)

September 2021

hands holding up a sign at a protest that reads "End the Violence End the Silence"

We are one race, the human race. I don't see color, so I can't understand why people are racist. I'm friends with black people. I'm not prejudiced. I've never said the N-word.

You say these "enlightened" ideals but continue to explain to me that the Confederate Flag is heritage and not hate. You make these statements but have not said a word about George Floyd's death but went on and on about the riots. This letter is not meant to call you out, but to hopefully educate you.

The Confederacy may be the history of the South, but it is not something to be proud of.  Sadly, you have been educated through the Lost Cause perspective, a pseudo-historical method of describing the Civil War as a fight for states' rights and not slavery. States' rights were a reason the Southern states seceded, but it was specifically because they wanted the "state right" of slavery.  Every secessionist document states slavery as the primary reason for the war, which was informed by white supremacist beliefs. It is nothing to be proud of. The vision of Black individuals as property, as subhuman, is not a legacy but the reality of a horrific past. This belief is important to address because the Confederacy, slavery, and Reconstruction still have impacts today. They are the originators of our current situation.

After Reconstruction was abandoned because of the Compromise of 1877, life in the South became, once again, abusive to the Black population. Attempting to preserve the oppressive status quo, Black codes and sharecropping were adopted to replace the slave system. They controlled the movement, property ownership rights, working conditions, and the income levels of freed Blacks for generations. Black people couldn't advocate for change because of disenfranchisement and restrictive rules like grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests that prevented them from utilizing their Constitutional rights. All of these originated from the white supremacist attitudes perpetuated by slavery and Confederates. Once again, nothing to be proud of but a heritage to denounce and educate yourself about.

Coming into the contemporary period, the New Deal sustained the deep inequality that Black individuals faced. Its homeowner policies created Redlining. While white people would be given credit to buy homes, Black people weren't offered this privilege. These policies, as well as “white flight,” segregated Black families into poor neighborhoods. Therefore, less money was invested in their communities, including in education and other essential services, creating an almost unbreakable cycle of poverty. Not having access to home equity created a sustained racial wealth gap. This poverty is why Black neighborhoods are overpoliced. Why Black people are six times more likely to be arrested for drug use. Why they make up much of the United States prison population. Four hundred years of oppression caused this, not individual moral failings. The criminal justice system always has and continually targets people of color. This systemic oppression is why law enforcement is, at its core, a method of continued white supremacy, a conversation very relevant to the death of George Floyd. (Fun fact: policing originated in America as a method to capture runaway slaves). Reduced accountability caused by police unions, qualified immunity, favored prosecutors, and no integrated national accountability system has created a force that keeps getting away with the murder of unarmed black men.

So, you cannot complain about rioting and looting while praising the heritage of the Confederacy. You cannot stay quiet about the racism that permeates the very fabric of our country. I, as a person of color, and you, as a white individual, can still never understand the experiences of Black Americans. The immense fear that they must feel when encountered by police, asking themselves if they will be the next victim of a racist officer. The fact that Black individuals have to work ten times harder to get a proper education and break out of a system that keeps them oppressed and in poverty. The fact that members of their community will be arrested at higher rates and convicted with longer sentences simply because of the color of their skin.

We can educate ourselves about these facts but never truly understand the profound inequality and fear that Black individuals face.

It is our job to be allies and fight alongside Black Americans for equality. We must go to protests, sign petitions, call our elected representatives, and donate to worthy causes. It is not the time to be selfish and believe in lies. It is time to educate ourselves about our privilege and use it for good. The murder of innocent Black men is disgusting and unacceptable. If we do any less than the most that is possible, we are benefitting from this oppressive system and allowing for the continuation of horrific racism.

Don't let your privilege make you complacent.

Works Cited:

Arshad, Muskaan. “The Abandoned Cause: End of Integration in the American School System and its Comprehensive Solutions.” International Social Science Conference for Youth,

Schermerhorn, Calvin. “Perspective | Why the Racial Wealth Gap Persists, More Than 150 Years After Emancipation.” Washington Post, 19 June 2019,

Originally from India, Muskaan is currently a freshman at Harvard University pursuing a degree in Government. Muskaan co-founded the International Youth Organization, The Reclamation Project, which works to foster generations of informed, anti-prejudiced people through education, advocacy, and amplification. Additionally, she is heavily involved in journalism and policy research.

#Op-Ed         #Social Justice         #Community         #Identity

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