I Was a Black Kid Who Benefited From White Privilege. Don't Tell Me It's Not Real | Opinion

I was born in 1968 to a white mother and a black father. I was adopted by white parents—and experienced benefits of white privilege.

My brother was also black and adopted. We had a white sister who was our parents' biological child.

Throughout my childhood, I saw how my parents were able to transfer some of their white privilege to me. When we were part of a group of kids who would get in any kind of trouble—deserved or not, just like all kids do—some adults would target my brother and me. They'd treat us differently for the simplest of infractions, looking at us like dregs of society. But all would be remedied when a neighbor or friend would intervene with "No, these two are Matthew and Susan's kids." It was like a miraculous wand. All would be forgiven. (Or, in a few cases, the accuser would begrudgingly walk away, mumbling an unacceptable term under their breath.)

I often felt different from my other black friends, like I would get some sort of pass or "white card" because my parents were white.

I also experienced the way white privilege transcends generations. My grandfather was a general manager of the B&M Railroad in Massachusetts. When he retired, he received a good pension. He and my grandmother lived frugally, and were able to leave us money, which I used to help pay for college and make a down payment on my first house.

My biological father, meanwhile (whom I met after I grew up), was subjected to Jim Crow laws and other forms of racism, which prevented him from having a job that paid similarly. Had my biological father raised me, I would not have had the same social and economic advantages to start my life.

None of this means I've escaped racism. Make no mistake about it. I've been called the n-word, stopped for no reason by police, and mistreated based on my skin color, many times throughout my life.

I've been thinking back on this in recent weeks, as some people rejecting the anti-racism protests have been arguing that there's no such thing as white privilege. There is, but it's not something that white people today should be criticized or shamed for having. They didn't create it. White people should not apologize or accept any attack for being white and having white privilege. That's not helping. But it needs to be accepted and acknowledged as a real issue, not a manufactured one.

The key is that in order to dismantle it, we have to first all understand and accept that white privilege exists.

As Mark McCoy, who was arrested for the same alleged crime as George Floyd but had an "absolutely benign" experience with the police, has pointed out, "White privilege is not based on the premise that White people have worry-free lives. The premise is that whatever other real struggles that person has, be it rooted in class or gender, their skin color is not one of their worries."

Still, many Americans don't understand or accept that white privilege exists. A Pew Research survey in 2017 found that just over half of white people believed that whites "get little or no advantage from their race." Only 7% of black respondents agreed.

It's unclear yet just how much the latest killings of black people by police, and the protests that have followed, may have changed minds about the existence of white privilege. In a recent poll, 60% of white respondents said they support the Black Lives Matter movement, compared to 86% of black respondents. We may be making progress, but there is still a gap.

Contrary to what some people assume, recognizing the existence of white privilege does not mean blaming it for any and all ills facing black people. Of course not. It also does not mean adopting a perspective of victimhood—it's not an excuse to fail, to give up or not try to be successful in spite of white privilege and racism. I recently railed against this victim mentality, taken by some blacks, whites and police, in a video that led to wonderful, moving responses from people of all races.

We all need to take responsibility to work together to fix the problems. And you can only fix something once you accept that it's real.

Keenan is CEO of A Sales Guy and author of the books Gap Selling and Not Taught.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​