BY RABBI BARRY COHEN
Ever heard the cliché, “He was born on third base and thinks he got a triple”?
During my freshman year of college, I started learning about the idea of “white privilege.” It seemed foreign to me because I grew up a Jew in the South. A Jew surrounded by Southern Baptists did not seem to qualify.
But here I am, a number of years down the road. In light of the nearly two weeks of demonstrations in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, I have been thinking a lot about “white privilege.”
Let me share two anecdotes:
• My 15-year-old son loves riding his bike. And I love how he is gaining confidence doing so (and getting in good shape as a result). Sundown is one of his favorite times to ride, and he has a bike with a headlight and taillight. I tell him to be careful and enjoy himself.
• I enjoy taking evening walks with my 15-year-old daughter. It’s good to get outside, breathe in some fresh air and spend quality time together. Sometimes we take a path in residential neighborhoods; sometimes we take a path toward Sunset High School.
If we were an African American family, would I make the same choices? The more I learn about the cold hard reality of race in our country, the more I understand I would choose differently. Too many things could go wrong with a black teenager riding a bike alone towards sundown. Too many things could go wrong with a black father and daughter taking a walk at night.
I understand how I am making my choices and am teaching my children that we are the beneficiaries of “white privilege.”
That being said, as I write these words, I feel that I am being patronizing. Deep in my heart, I do not know what it feels like to be an African American, Hispanic American, or part of the LGBTQ community. But at least I am aware of the gift I have received.
I have never feared a cop, only feared getting a speeding ticket. I have never feared getting pulled out of my car and handcuffed, face down. I have never feared having my car searched. I have never feared getting arrested and taken to jail for saying the "wrong" thing, in the wrong tone.
I may have taken part in demonstrations, but only when I knew I would be safe. When my kids and I were living in Chicago, we took part in the march after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. Though we passed by police during the march, and I knew there were police mounted on horseback behind me, I did not feel afraid. At the end of the demonstration, we walked back to my car parked in the pay-by-the-hour lot, and we drove back home to the suburbs.
I am amazed that demonstrators have continued, day after day, with even greater intensity and emotion. Perhaps that is another example of white privilege; I never had to demonstrate in my own neighborhood.
May we use these days to better understand the power we have (that we never knew we had), and how we can leverage our power for the sake of change and justice for all.
As the Community Chaplain for the Greater Portland Jewish community, Rabbi Barry Cohen serves as a resource for all Jews in our community. He can be reached at 503-892-7401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.