I’ll be honest. I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of my white privilege until earlier this year.
I was performing for an event in the middle of nowhere as the featured entertainment for an annual celebration. Many of my gigs take me to obscure locations around the country. Gigs in middle America are vastly different than gigs in major coastal cities. Fancy hors d'oeuvres and expensive wines are replaced by buffet lines and All-American beers. The meal is prefaced with a prayer and everyone is incredibly polite.
That’s one of the biggest perks of my job: I get to travel the world meeting people from all walks of life. I’m thrust into new situations and get to pretend like I belong for a few hours. It’s a constant adventure.
But, many months ago, I had a realization. I was chatting with my client about living in the city. They responded with “I don’t think I could go to Chicago. There are too many eth-en-ticities [sic] there…”
I bit my tongue and changed the subject. I wasn’t going to end racism by fighting with sixty people in a small town. (Plus, I still needed to get paid for that show.) But it did make me think of something that I hadn’t before:
I realized that they thought I was one of them.
See, I’m from a small town in Kansas so I have a folksy, down-to-earth charm that allows me to fit in everywhere I go. I may be a big city liberal elite but I’m a chameleon at the many events I work. I’m able to relate to different people in different places and get along with all of them thanks to my midwestern upbringing and, more specifically, the color of my skin.
It was the first time I realized that other performers in my field were probably missing out on these gigs because they were a different race than I am. It occurred to me that there was a whole portion of the population that were too afraid of hiring someone different than them and, as a result, they were missing out on experiencing some of the best entertainment in the world.
In that moment I was angry and sad and everything in between. I finally understood how incredibly fortunate I am to be a white man in America. Not only do I get to make a living as an entertainer, but I get to do so wherever I want without fear of discrimination or injustice.
If you can’t see that you’re even more privileged than I am.