THE BLOG
01/20/2015 05:26 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

Don't Self-Flagellate About White Privilege. Do Something!

It's not about being a good person because racism makes you feel bad.

At a recent Black Lives Matter rally, I saw a middle-aged woman come nervously to the microphone. She began to speak about her white privilege. While she chided herself for past wrongs and oversights, she said next to nothing about the events that called the rally forth: the police killings of innocent black women and men, and the failure of the justice system to hold the killers accountable.

Perhaps she didn't address these issues because she feared that in doing so, she would come across as a racist, say the wrong thing, or put something the wrong way. Perhaps the mostly black audience would view her as attempting to co-opt their protest.

It's a crucial first step that white people recognize white privilege, but that alone isn't enough. What's more, luxuriating in our own suffering doesn't engender social change. Here's a stale paradox: self-flagellating about white privilege is an expression of white privilege.

Yet no amount of flagellation, nor even critical awareness, can divest white people of our privilege. It is something we are given, every day and on a repeated basis, without asking for it. It is imposed, even if we don't want it. The officer gives us a warning, instead of a ticket. We beat out a better qualified person of color for the job, but we're kept ignorant of what happened. When we go clothes shopping, no one follows us through every store.

The way to end white privilege is to challenge the institutions that render its bestowal compulsory, such as the police, the legal system, the prison, and the law.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a black movement, and certainly non-black people should not presume to steal the limelight, or to speak for black people. It's not about us. Yet I hope we can find the courage to do something, knowing that we might very well make a mistake and that we might be corrected. This is called "learning."

The grand jury's non-indictment of police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Mike Brown set me off. As I watched prosecutor Bob McCulloch defend Wilson for an infuriating 20 minutes, I could barely keep my eyes on the television screen.

I was angry and I wanted to join a street protest, but the rural university town of Macomb, Illinois was virtually deserted, the students having left for Thanksgiving Break. Then I hit on the idea of starting a MoveOn.org petition to have McCulloch disbarred for what I termed "gross prosecutorial misconduct."

Doing everything possible to ensure Darren Wilson would not be indicted, McCulloch allegedly manipulated the proceedings, gave the jurors conflicting instructions, and allowed known perjurers to testify.

I wrote that "I seek to add something to the beautiful protests that are taking place across the United States and around the world."

I was a little afraid of taking a stand alone, afraid the protesters would object or call me out. Quite the opposite happened. I was not alone at all. This gay Jewish dude was welcome. Only racist trolls called me out, while the petition grew exponentially. All sorts of people retweeted it and reposted in Facebook, people of different colors, ages, religions, genders, and sexualities. After several weeks, MoveOn.org decided to promote the petition. At this writing, it has more than 25,000 signatures.

In the last 10 days, three legal events have taken place in relation to the Mike Brown grand jury: (1) Missouri-based attorneys have filed a bar complaint against McCulloch. (2) The ACLU is representing a member of the grand jury who wishes to break the hush order to expose McCulloch's alleged misconduct. (3) The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has written an open letter to a presiding judge requesting that the case against Darren Wilson be reopened, due to McCulloch's misconduct.

Whether or not Bob McCulloch gets disbarred, the fundamental purpose of my petition is to call the racist justice system into account. Will it work? I too have my doubts about "clicktivism." But regardless, I have to admit that it makes me feel proud to do something.

You can find the petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/supreme-court-of-missouri.