THE BLOG

That Thing That Connects Nepal, Baltimore and SCOTUS

04/28/2015 05:23 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015

"This is not a slow news day," quipped one of my friends in one of the most epic understatements posted online.

And, indeed, we're pretty much at a whiplash-inducing deluge of events that make it difficult to figure out to which direction you should turn your attention: Do you scroll through the images of the earthquake in Nepal? Do you peruse the emotionally charged reflections and rants reacting to the uprising in Baltimore? Or do you the devour all of the #LoveMustWin tweets emerging from the SCOTUS marriage equality hearing?

The storyteller in me wants to weave a narrative thread that connects these three events. The professor in me wants to discover the theory that brings these events together. The Container Store-shareholder in me wants to cardboard up all three events into one box to make them easier to unpack.

But I couldn't find the common link. All I could identify was that feeling so many of us are feeling: overwhelmed. So, I did what I am able to do when I feel overwhelmed: I emotionally retreated into my shell.

And somewhere in that retreating, in that hiding out, in that escaping in a guaranteed shelter, I realized that I could. I could retreat. I could hide. I could escape.

Just like that, the thing that connects Nepal and Baltimore and SCOTUS together became immediately clear like a billboard across my shell: white privilege.

Let's just pause here to highlight that if you haven't read "White Privilege and Male Privilege" by Peggy McIntosh, you must. Any synopsis I provide would be a disservice to this seminal work.

That said, the CliffsNotes version is that white privilege exists as an "invisible package of unearned assets" on which you can count on cashing in each day, but about which, you are really and truly "meant" to remain oblivious.

It is white privilege that allows me to disconnect from seismic activity in a country far away. It is white privilege that allows me to retreat from sentiments around rioting and police brutality. And it is white privilege that allows me to be a thing apart from the Supreme Court decision-making process.

With this lens, you can see evidence of this privilege all over social media.

  • White privilege allows us to disproportionately focus on a group of U.S. hikers in the place of the thousands of Nepalese victims.
  • White privilege bolsters your friends who have never left the country to "mark themselves safe" on the "Nepal Earthquake Facebook Safety Check" page and then white privilege enables your other friends to respond "LOL" to these check-ins.
  • White privilege encourages the sharing of the video of a mother physically pulling her masked son out of a Baltimore crowd as the supreme example of something (not even sure what) when that something pales in the face of the larger picture.
  • White privilege couches rioting only in terms of destruction, and not as the language of the unheard.
  • And it is white privilege that supports the articles, fundraising appeals and dialogue equating marriage equality as the flag-bearing issue of the LGBT community, making it near impossible to talk about any other issue (Anti-trans violence! Adoption bans! Employment nondiscrimination!) with even near the same importance or palatability.

This is not to say that guilt or defensiveness should rule the day, because that simply won't advance the needle. White privilege does not mean you can't send aid to Nepal. White privilege does not mean you can't feel the effects of violence in your soul. And white privilege does not mean you can't root for marriage equality.

The key here is to see Nepal, Baltimore and marriage equality in a fuller context, one that is more infinitely more layered than what is being shared. But to get there, you have to take action. You must write to your local media and demand more diverse coverage. You must ask your friends, "Really? On what do you base that stance?" And, most of all, you must avoid retreating into your shells and, instead, raise up your voice to demand change where everyone's voice is at the table. Not just the voices like yours.