Watch Night, White Privilege

As a white man from the north
brought up in the twentieth century
I can only imagine
life on a plantation
with slaves.

It goes something like this:

when I couldn’t sleep
I would sneak out of
the plantation house
and down to the slave quarters
where I would hear them talk
about great adventures
seeking some wonderful prize;
travelling through
dangerous swamps
like wise men
following a star;
not the star of Bethlehem
but the northern star.

They would stop
when they saw me
and Auntie
(she wasn’t really my aunt,
it’s just she took care of us
like a good aunt should
unlike my mom’s
older sister,
a widow
who lived with us
and was very strict
and stern
and worried
about uprisings
and wanted us
to keep the slaves
in their place);
Auntie would talk kindly to me
and take me back
to the plantation house.

I think mostly the slaves liked me
although I never really knew
if it was just Christian Charity
or deference
to their master’s son,
but I’d get frustrated
when they talked about
their concerns
and told me
I couldn’t understand
or help.

When I started noticing
how pretty
some of
the slave girls
my age
and flirting with them,
I hoped
they would like me
and not just smile
of my power
and prestige.
Then some of the slave boys
started getting meaner to me.

Then the war came.
They wanted their freedom.
I just wanted
our old way of life back.

Sure, my dad owned slaves,
but I never did.

A century and a half later
I read about
another black kid
and the riots
and Black Lives Matter
and the black folks I know
tell me
I wouldn’t understand
because of my
white privilege
whatever that is.

The buildings
of the great institutions
where I studied
and worshiped
were built by slaves,
but I wasn’t involved.
I don’t have to
“have the talk”
before my kids
walked down the street
and the police
and doctors
and teachers
and others
all treat me justly.

I just want things
to go back
to how they used to be
before all this
racial tension.

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