The Youngest Charleston Victim Was My Age And Reveals My White Privilege

by John Haltiwanger

The youngest victim of the horrific Charleston shooting was 26 years old. His life was prematurely stolen from him by a bullet propelled by the vicious current of hatred.

His name was Tywanza Sanders.

Sanders was a graduate of Allen University and very active in his community.

Described by friends as a person with a contagious smile, he died attempting to protect his aunt. While his efforts were tremendously brave, she ultimately perished as well.

Survivors of the #CharlestonShooting are making it clear that TyWanza Sanders put his life on the line to save others — Shaun King (@ShaunKing) June 19, 2015

Earlier on the day he died, he posted a quote from Jackie Robinson on Instagram:

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.

Even though I never met this young man, his life has had an impact on me. His life was important.

I am the same age Sanders was when he died. The reason he's no longer with us is one of the more apparent differences between us: He was black.

Sanders is a painful reminder of my white privilege.

If I'd been in that church, it's unlikely I would've been targeted. Sources say the shooter, Dylann Roof, has admitted he was motivated by racism and hatred, with a desire to start a race war.

He reportedly told the victims that they "have to go," then deliberately shot them because of the color of their skin.

The Charleston shooting was tied inherently to white privilege and Roof's delusional sense of entitlement and misguided perception of reality.

White privilege is real, an undeniable aspect of American life. It's a product of this nation's abhorrent history of racial division -- a past defined by slavery and Jim Crow -- which has morphed into mass incarceration and police brutality in the present.

White privilege doesn't mean all white people have easier lives or that being born white guarantees success and happiness. It's far more complex than that.

White privilege is the fact my ancestors came here willingly, while the ancestors of most blacks in this country were forcefully torn from their native lands, placed in chains and transported across the Atlantic in ships under conditions you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy.

White privilege is the fact my ancestors owned slaves, and there are currently black people in this country with my last name because slave owners forced their names upon them.

White privilege is the fact people don't look at me suspiciously as I walk down the street or shop in a store. White privilege is the fact if I have marijuana in my pocket, I'm four times less likely to be arrested for it than my black peers.

White privilege is the fact I'm 21 times less likely to be killed by police than young men like Tywanza Sanders.

White privilege is the fact I don't have a reason to fear police. White privilege is the fact one in three black males ends up in prison at some point, compared to one in 17 white males.

White privilege is the fact whites deal drugs more often than blacks, but blacks still get arrested for it at a higher rate.

The tragedy brought upon Emanuel AME Church cannot be captured adequately through facts or figures. The life of Tywanza Sanders cannot be described sufficiently through statistics.

But it's difficult to ignore the broader implications of what occurred in the church on Sunday night and what would drive a person to commit such a senseless and hateful act of violence.

More often than not, minorities in the US have far more obstacles to overcome than whites. There's a reason black unemployment has historically been much higher than white unemployment.

There's a reason black children are three times as likely to live in poverty than white children.

History has consequences. Progress doesn't occur overnight: It has to be cultivated and carefully attended to.

There are people who would argue acknowledging "white privilege" is simply "white guilt." I'm not guilty, I'm aware.

I refuse to disregard history and culture and their effect on America's current politics and societal framework.

As Jon Stewart once aptly put it:

White people set the system… That's what privilege is. … My point is this, women face this and minorities face this… They have to make strategic calculations in their lives that white guys never have to make…

Until we all acknowledge the existence and impact of white privilege, tragedies like the Charleston shooting will never cease from occurring.

Citations: Review The House I Live In (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange ), Charleston victims 9 lives lost to family and community (CNN), 1 In 3 Black Males Will Go To Prison In Their Lifetime Report Warns (Huffington Post ), White people are more likely to deal drugs but black people are more likely to get arrested for it (Washington Post ), Megyn Kelly Schools Bill OReilly About White Privilege No Really (Huffington Post ), The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests (NYT), Report Black Male Teens Are 21 Times More Likely To Be Killed By Cops Than White Ones (Think Progress )