In Defense of White Privilege

The country is reeling. The world is outraged. The footage of a “police officer” slowing suffocating a man – murdering him while in handcuffs, on his belly, completely restrained – as three “fellow officers” assisted/watched has now become etched in our brains. Bystanders pleaded with them to stop only to be met with expressions of smug arrogance.  It’s a scene we won’t soon forget.

Now, the anger and the outrage seems to be at a tipping point. Protests, demonstrations, and marches along with rioting, looting, and destruction of property have eclipsed the coverage of the pandemic and the collapse of the economy. Those stories seem old and dusty now, but it was only 9 days ago when we were vigorously debating the need for masks and the possibility of summer camps.

If you have a pulse and a soul, your heart aches right now. It’s hard to wrap your head around this place we’re in right now.  This things feels big and scary and overwhelming.

The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them and do nothing.

~Albert Einstein

Even though most people will admit that the police were wrong and that this systemic, racist abuse of power has got to stop, there are those among us who are more focused on the outraged than the outrageous.

“Sure, the police were wrong, but the riots and violence….”

“I feel bad he was killed, but he had a criminal record, you know…”

“There are a few bad apples in every profession. Not every police officer is corrupt.”

“These protestors! I’m glad my kids didn’t turn out to be idiots and puppets.”

“Two nights in a row they blocked the entire street going both ways.  It took almost a half an hour to get home!”

“DEM-ass crybabies!”



These are actual sentiments of my white, privileged neighbors. Now before you get all upset and go “libtard” on me, hear me out.  First, the science. The human brain can only take so much stress, fear,  and uncertainty before it’s flooded with neurotransmitters that make rational thought more difficult. Over time, that overproduction of stress hormones shuts down the prefrontal cortex – the thinking brain – as the survival brain takes over.

If all of that isn’t enough, we’ve got our own civil rights issues to deal with.

In defense of my neighbors, you have no idea how stressful life here has been.  We’re just getting back to normal as our beaches and bars are opening back up after months of the pandemic closures. Downtown is finally open again, and we’ve been waiting weeks to get back to our comfortable lives. In addition, the disgraceful job the landscapers have done with the pine straw and shrub maintenance has been infuriating… not to mention the shortage of plastic baggies at the poop stations throughout the community.  If all of that isn’t enough, we’ve got our own civil rights issues to deal with. There is a petition circulating to fight the property management company regarding the restriction of decorative rocks. Who are they to deny us the enjoyment of decorative rocks?!  Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to battle all of that day in and day out?

I mean, sure, George Floyd is dead and his family is preparing a funeral because he met the unfortunate “bad apple” that day. But, c’mon…  they’ve all been fired and arrested.  Isn’t that what you wanted with all the others before this one?   Why all the commotion?

In fairness, the Founding Fathers didn’t anticipate the modern-day challenges of communities like mine when they delineated the right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly as a critical tenet to a functioning democracy and the core of the First Amendment. Who has the time and energy to fight the racial injustice that has permeated the fabric of our country for centuries with the iniquity of banned decorative rocks and sloppy pine straw on our hands?

And,  what makes you think that this time will be different from Philando Castile or Freddie Gray?

  • Tamir Rice.
  • Kendra James.
  • Sean Bell.
  • Eric Garner.
  • Michael Brown.
  • Alton Sterling.

The. List. Goes. On.

Maybe this time will be different because of the chorus of outrage ringing across the globe. Protests. Lots of them. The world is watching.

Then again, we’ve been through this so many times. It all dies down eventually and we get back to normal. Patience.

In defense of my white, privileged neighbors, we’ve got our own problems to deal with right now.

Maybe next time.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. Melissa — Nice neighbors… Oy.

    I’ve just read your two recent articles – this one and “Tarnish” – back-to-back. And when I read this line “Now, the anger and the outrage seems to be at a tipping point,” I stopped reading and looked out the window. I thought, maybe most of us are just numb because of the number of headline-making examples of racial injustice that seem to occur with greater frequency. But, I am a student of history – I taught U.S. history in a just-out-of-college career – so that thought seemed, well, too easy.

    So I re-read that line and something clicked: most of us aren’t numb, we’re simply oblivious. And we’re oblivious on two levels:

    ONE: The real racial injustice in this country goes far beyond murder. It’s more insidious, and frankly it’s been around almost since the inception of our country. Part of our nation’s early economy was founded on the subjugation of one race by another because the subjugated race was seen to be inferior. Not equal. That lack of equality didn’t end with the end of overt slavery. One of the most blatant and head-scratching examples occurred during World War II when Black Americans were expected to support the national cause of defeating Totalitarianism, yet they were relegated to support roles – non combat – in segregated units. That was racism at work almost 100 years after the end of overt slavery, and it’s indicative of continued subjugation. The effects of long-term racism are easily seen in the NYC COVID-19 statistics where people of color are much more likely to have died than their white counterparts. They live in crowded ghetto-like neighborhoods and are forced to take crowded subways to work. Meanwhile, their wealthy-white counterparts beat a hasty retreat to their second homes on Long Island.

    TWO: As terrible as these senseless murders are, they distract us from seeing the real truth about our nation’s history.
    • Let’s talk about our historic record of prejudiced-driven anti-immigration, which continues today.
    • Let’s talk about anti-Semitism, which believe me, continues today.
    • Let’s talk about our mis-treatment of our indigenous people, which continues to today.
    • Let’s talk about unequal pay for women compared to men.

    The list could go on.

    The senseless murder of George Floyd is bringing a much needed consciousness-raising, but we need to be aware of our much larger problem. “Oh, you’ve got trouble, right here in River City.”

    Thank you, as always, Melissa for making me think.

  2. Hi, Melissa.

    Especially after experiencing White Fragility, you’ve thrown an interesting rock into a troubled pond.

    I don’t think enough of us are accepting the grieving that’s got us by the short and curlies. Whether we think the system needs breaking or that if we could could only make America whatever again, it’d all be all right, it ain’t going back (I’m working on a new podcast/project, back2different, right now and would love to have you record an episode, btw).

    Until we can acknowledge and process our grief, we’ll stay stuck.

    Keep it up.

    • I’m afraid you may be right, Mac. I’m saddened by the lack of empathy/urgency/understanding…. I struggle for the right word to use here. We’ve been here before. With enough patience, we’ll get through it and get back to normal, right? My heart hurts…

      I’d love to join you on your podcast. Thank you!