Letter: Pandemic, protest and privilege

Americans are in the middle of a dangerous pandemic caused by the coronavirus. Many Americans are also protesting the dangerous pandemic of racism that has ravaged communities of color for centuries. 

I am fortunate to be able to stay home, as recommended by our governor and health officials. When I do go out, I wear a mask to protect my neighbors from COVID-19. I have learned what to do about this disease.

But what I am also learning to see in the protests is my own white privilege in the middle of a pandemic. White privilege is complicated, often unconscious behaviors and assumptions, and unearned benefits that I have, just because I am white. 

I wear a mask when I go out, as many of us do. And, also like many of us, I complain about it. But, I have never had to worry that wearing a mask made me look suspicious, to law enforcement or my fellow citizens.  I never worried that my white son would be questioned for doing nothing other than wearing a face covering to protect himself and others. That’s privilege.

As quarantine and stay-at-home orders stay in place, and the days drag on, I sometimes take a drive just for something to do. As we wander through neighborhoods with no other purpose than to look around, I am reminded that it is unlikely that I will ever be stopped and questioned as to why I am there. It is very likely that no one considers me a threat or feels the need to call law enforcement. That’s privilege.

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Curbside pickup of groceries and meals is certainly a change, and I long for the time when we can return to shopping and dining “the way it used to be.” How selfish of me to complain about this, when I have never been followed around in a store based on the color of my skin. No one in my family has ever had to worry about being denied service in a restaurant, or being treated in a way that feels unwelcoming. That’s white privilege.

Now is the time for a white person like me to take that privilege and use it to listen and learn from groups like Black Lives Matter and others about changes needed in this society. 

Change is not easy.  Racism has been a staple of American society for hundreds of years, and it’s easy to slip back into old patterns. But now is the time to listen, to learn, and to act by supporting and fighting for the changes that people of color say are essential. 

I have committed myself to being proactive in fighting for those changes. I hope you will, too.

Cathy Vaughan-Grabowski


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