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My White Privilege

By Robert Knox

PROMPT—Privilege ...

Is imprinted. There at the beginning,

like the formula milkiness in the bottle,

mothers in those days persuaded by bland promises

of better living through artificial means.

Bleached winter-pink in the frozen ear-tips of childhood photos,

the images black and white, though of people only white.

Visible in the houses purchased by white fathers

eligible for VA mortgage loans available to white veterans

Look! We all live in “White Houses” in de facto segregated postwar neighborhoods,

white-balled by the small print in the regulations

My white privilege gets me around town,

protects me in my careless teens.

Imprinted clearly in the photo on my driver’s license

the presumption of all that I am endowed by my government,

though in fact by my ticket in the birth lottery

that also guarantees new schools built in the all-white subdivisions.

My mother’s own childhood disappointments

bleached by the new prosperity that guaranteed

her children the middle-class opportunities that passed her by,

new state universities bolstered by government “defense” loans

crafted for the new white middle class

My own ticket punched in the assembly line

of the happily phrased “white collar” opportunity

that I dirtied and dented only through my own willful missteps

and rebellious longings for a life of more color and the freedom to dirty my hands in the soil of my dreams,

blithely stepping over the white lines of respectability

even as the face-mask of my discretions

remained white as snow.


Robert Knox is a poet, fiction writer, Boston Globe correspondent, and a contributing editor for the online poetry journal Verse-Virtual. His poems have also appeared in journals such as The American Journal of Poetry, New Verse News, Unlikely Stories, and others. His novel "Karpa Talesman" was chosen as the winner of a competition for a novel of speculative fiction and will be published by Hidden River Arts. His collection of linked short stories, titled "House Stories," will be published by Adelaide Books this year.


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