If there is one thing that I speak on often in my writing it is white privilege. I know that there are white folks who believe that it is a load of crap and see it as reverse racism, blah, blah, blah, but regardless of their views about it, it exists.
It is an aspect of white individuals, and those who identify as white (mainly because of their experiences and the color of their skin), existence whether or not they admit it or even recognize it. Nonetheless, when you are born with a certain status and socioeconomic background that bestows privilege upon you, becoming cognizant of it and what you do with it makes all the difference in the world. That’s why I am surprisingly here for Kim Kardashian West’s recent decision to put her fame, money, and privilege to the cause of imprisoned sex slave Cyntoia Brown.
It’s not very often that I give kudos to a Kardashian for anything. Ultimately, they are a media hungry family full of narcissists that rarely do anything outside of what’s going to give them more exposure. And in this particular instance, maybe Kim is using this situation as a means for more headlines, but that aside, her involvement in trying to get Cyntoia Brown the justice she deserves is the perfect example of how to positively use white privilege. It is rumored that she has hired her lawyers to work on behalf of Brown and that is not only commendable; it also shows the power that celebrities have to affect change for the better.
Here is the backstory on this young woman.
In 2004, Cyntoia Brown, who was 16-years-old at the time of her trial, was sentenced to life in prison for killing a “client.” Abuse and drugs marked her childhood with her grandmother and mother both living the life of sex workers and experiencing unimaginable abuse. Brown was also forced into prostitution as a young teenager, and as the story goes, she ended up killing 43-year-old Nashville area real estate agent Jonny Mitchell Allen. Brown’s defense team at the time argued self-defense, but Tennessee, being the heartless, conservative, republican run state that it is cut her no slack. In fact, Brown is not eligible for parole until the age of 69 as she was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, all because a predator wanted to use her for his sexual proclivities.
Her case first gained national attention in 2011 when documentarian Dan Birman told Brown’s story through a PBS special, Me Facing Life: The Cyntoia Brown Story. He told Nashville’s Fox17 earlier this month,
“This is a young girl who’s at the tail end of three generations of violence against women… She had no chance.”
Six years later, her story is once again making headline news thanks to celebrities like Rihanna who wrote in a post on Twitter,
“Did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way?? Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists, and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child’s sentence I hope to God you don’t have children because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing…”
Kim K. joined the fight and was moved to do something more than post on social media. She tweeted at the height of the attention last week,
“The system has failed… It’s heartbreaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this.”
As it stands right now, according to People, her legal team is in the works of “a plan of action” about Brown’s potential options. The lead attorney for the case, Shawn Holley, worked under Johnnie Cochran during the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995.
We have seen what this kind of attention can have for cases like Brown’s and Kardashian West putting her money where her mouth serves as a big step for her as a person, given her public reputation. But more than that, it is a great reminder to all of us that the privilege white people have in this society is not a bad thing when used to exact good. It all comes down to choices, and thankfully, one of the most attention-grabbing personalities on the planet is shocking all of us and doing something of this magnitude for someone who, as Birman said, “had no chance.”
Instead of fighting the “stigma” that comes with white privilege, the better thing to do is to acknowledge that it exists and use it for means other than selfish reasons. It’s that simple. I imagine that Kardashian West having biracial children has also helped her understand the plight of black mothers in America. Sometimes, it takes experiencing the fear of “what if” to open a person’s eyes.
White privilege is a powerful thing, and those who own it are in a prime position to change the world.
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