Perspective Is Everything: Otto Warmbier
When I heard of the return of #OttoWarmbier and his condition upon return, I was sad for his family because I have sons. However, I felt no righteous indignation about his fate because he brought all that happened to him upon himself. He was not taken into custody simply for being himself, he willfully committed a crime in a country where the US has no diplomatic relations AND where his white privilege is rendered useless.
He learned what it is like to be a minority and under constant scrutiny and what it's like to have your every move monitored. He also learned what it's like to have unnecessarily harsh sentences handed down for something deemed (by some) relatively innocuous. However, in this country, innocuous crimes can get you the death penalty, without benefit of trial, if you're Black (Garner, Rice, Bland, Martin, Crawford...the list goes on). And you can even be executed on the spot (Philando Castille) in front of your child and girlfriend for no crime, just because you have been labeled a threat by society and the officer was "scared."
All this points to this: Otto Warmbier went to another country and learned what it's like to be Black in America. Due to his white privilege in this country, his parents never had that discussion that most, if not all, Black and minority parents give their children when visiting away from home: The Act Right Speech. The words of wisdom we instill in our children so they won't, 1) embarrass us, their parents; and 2) won't bring trouble to themselves that we as parents have to rescue them from. Otto, due to his privilege, likely never had to be told precautionary stories by his parents because he was reared in a country that caters to and dotes upon those who look like him: white, male, heterosexual, with some degree of affluence. The proverbial "golden ticket" to success in America. He had to go to a country where people who don't look like him live, rule, and exercise their privilege...and theirs alone is the privilege that counts.
The privilege that Otto took for granted as a white man is the same sort of privilege that sparks outrage when the recent film Wonder Woman was screened for an all female audience. It is also the overt theme of the distress many white men feel regarding the overwhelming reception, by Black people, to the trailer of the upcoming film, Black Panther. White men feel left out and deprived of their own perceived and socialized essentialness. Many white men (and women, as well) don't understand what it means to NOT be the center of everything, included and considered in everything, and have the rules for the rest of us apply only if they are beneficial to them and their causes. Some white women get it because, though they are afforded the other benefits of privilege, they are not men.
In this country, when you try to explain that to said men, they hear only the echoes of their ancestors stealing the country and building it through the labor and on the trampled backs of all those who were here, brought here, and later cast off as unnecessary and unworthy, even inhuman. Even those white men who don't have the wealth and opportunity of others, they still have the benefit of the doubt and privilege of color and position in society because of it.
In the end, while his condition is extremely sad and unfortunate for Otto and his loved ones, he is still alive, which is more than can be said for many Black Americans who were killed right here in this country. While this is a sad lesson for the uninitiated on the breadth and finite extent of white privilege, in an era of a Trump Presidential Administration, it is a very, very necessary one.
Jenea Inconnue is a talented, eloquent freelance writer.
We are fortunate to have her contributions. -VRH