So this weird thing happened to me. Well, it wasn’t actually weird – it was really entirely normal, but its utterly ordinary nature bugged me all day.
Late last night, while I was working on the ceiling in my studio, I nicked my hand on a piece of metal. No big deal – I ducked into the bathroom, rinsed it off, slapped on a Band-Aid on, and kept on working. Actually, not even a real “Band-Aid” – a generic, run-of-the-mill, non-latex “fabric bandage.” Bought for the lowest possible price at the drugstore the day before we hosted our first rehearsal.
This morning at home, I took the old one off, and then put another one on after my shower. Different brand, and, again, nothing unusual was happening. This time, I did strive to put it on in a way that was less noticeable, because I was about to meet some new collaborators at a first rehearsal, and no one wants to be remembered as “that guy with the Band-Aid.” So I aimed to make it as invisible as possible.
I achieved some degree success while only paying it half my mind, as the rest of my thoughts were on the music I was about to present, how the play would sound out loud, and how happy I was to be heading into the room with a group of artists I respect so highly. And then, the fact that I would likely be one of the only white people in the room during this rehearsal floated through my consciousness. Not because that is a unique thing in my life (happily, it is not) – but because of that bandage.
Any success I was having at hiding that oddly embarrassing object along the base of my thumb was due to the fact that it matched my skin.
And, yes, I’m sure, if you look, you can find first aid bandages that match African American skin as well. I’ll bet you can even get one or two different variations made for various skin tones – maybe there’s even a latex and a non-latex option, if you look carefully.
But the basic? The least expensive? The box with multiple sizes? The knuckle variations, the little button shaped ones, any of the other forty or fifty options in the First Aid aisle? They’re made for caucasians.
It’s tiny. I know it’s tiny. But I’ve been thinking about it all day. Because it’s just one more way that life here in America pokes at its own people. Even in Philadelphia, where the Census tells us that “White alone, not Hispanic or Latino” is only 35.8% of the population, the majority of the first aid dressings are designed to be hidden on white skin. And I couldn’t stop thinking about how annoying it is when I get a splinter that I just can’t get out.
Privilege is a funny thing. It’s a bit like the drone of the refrigerator, the buzz of the lights or the susurration of a nearby highway. It saturates us from all directions, all of the time, and we just incorporate it into our landscape. It tells the privileged people that they are the focus of our businesses, our laws, our society. And all the other people? Sure, they can still fulfill their basic needs – if they look a little harder. They might be able to stay safe, if they act humbler in front of the police. And they can probably advance in society if they work just that little bit harder. People of Color are constantly being reminded that our society rates them below Caucasians.
Why am I writing about bandages when I could be writing about how, in “Open Carry” states, if a black kid plays with a toy gun, the police approach him as a threat, but when a white adult hangs out with a semi-automatic, black people’s fear isn’t grounds for arrest? Or about how a religion that is associated primarily with people who are not “white alone” is being vilified and attacked by national political figures? I could explain, yet again, why #blacklivesmatter must exist, and must not be diluted by any more “inclusive” versions of the phrase. But those big issues? They’re so complex that they are open for debate. They can be parsed and diminished and doubts can be cast. Guns, religion, police/community relations – no part of these topics is straightforward, and anyone with a web-browser can find a statistic to make their case.
I believe that privilege is a part of all of that, but I know that it’s also far simpler. Privilege is being told, day in and day out, that I am the kind of person this society was designed to serve. Privilege is my gender on 60% of the bodies on my screen, and my race on 91% of them. It’s having all the traditional comic book characters look like me, when they’re not green with rage. It’s never being asked to take my hoodie down, never being followed by the security guard, never having to look at my own bandage and think, “Why do I have a patch of someone else’s skin color on me?”
Tomorrow, I’ll use that privilege when I go to the store, and buy some bandages designed for darker skin. I’ll put them on the shelf in the studio medicine chest, next to the Caucasian-colored ones. It won’t change the world, but if it takes one tiny sting out of one person’s life, well, that’ll be something. And if even one privileged person reads this and begins to accept the reality of their privilege, that’ll be something, too.