Last week I got into a little disagreement on Facebook, through a comment thread on an acquaintance’s page. I left a comment saying that people who fly confederate flags are generally not the kind of people who a black man (or woman) might want to be caught in a dark alley with. My point was not so much that flying a confederate flag makes you a racist, but in my experience, they usually are.
Then I got called a racist. By a white guy from Mississippi. Which, as another commenter on the thread pointed out, was kind of humorous.
The whole thing was kind of silly. Serves me right for wasting my time commenting on threads of people I barely know.
I forgot about it, for a day. But then out of the blue a couple of days later it popped into my head and I began to wonder, “Am I starting to be a bit of a racist toward white people?”
And then I wonder, is that even possible? The notion that white Americans can cry racism is complex and debatable in communities like Detroit, where race tension often runs high. It’s an argument that would take an entire other post to fill.
But the issue at hand, a type of ism, which I will call whiteism, and really has little to do with people who actually fly confederate flags, before Annika was born, and even before I met Toyin, I held the same opinion of confederate flag fliers.
But getting called a racist is unnerving. It’s been a long time since it has happend to me. But it happened a number of times when I lived and worked in Detroit. Black people often pulled the race card out when I worked at a bank on the border of Detroit. And it pissed me off royally every single time.
So the comment struck a nerve with me and it made me start to think about how I view other white people now.
Now that it’s been four years of being the mom to a child of color, I realize that I often view other white people with an initial suspicion that I never did before. I never needed to. I am white, and in the past, there was no reason to associate me with people of another color. Even when Toyin and I were a couple, it wasn’t the same as being someone’s mom. I never took it all that personally or really cared what people thought of us.
But a mother cares and holds concern when the thought that some people might assume negative things about her child.
All the general stereotypes that I know are there about African Americans and mixed race mothers, float through my head when we go to the park, to the store, to school, wherever, in certain neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter what they are, but I wonder, even here in liberal Austin, if they are thinking them about me/us.
They probably aren’t. I try to brush the thoughts away, telling myself that most white people aren’t racist. Even the ones who are friendly, I wonder, just a tiny bit if they are thinking something negative about me.
It’s hard to brush away all the memories of being in a group of white people and hearing things that I know they wouldn’t have said if there was a black person in the room.
And it’s just the white people I wonder about. With black people, I feel more accepted by them than I did before.
Black people typically pick up that Annika is my daughter. The occasional brown skinned person has asked if she’s mine, but for the most part, they see it.
They can tell a biracial child from a black child. They know what it looks like and in their world, it’s just not as uncommon. Additionally, they aren’t looking at her skin color because it’s not a definer. They see her hair, her bone structure. They look at her face faster. It’s not something anyone has told me, but I see it. I can see that they are really looking at her and to them, she’s just a child, not a black child.
I generally feel a sense of welcome when a black person sees Annika and me together. They smile a bit bigger than I imagine they might have when she’s not with me. They see us and they know that I will see them as a person. And I wonder, if perhaps, it’s because they know right away that they can drop their suspicions about me.
It’s true. I’m not imaging it. I began to notice it when I was pregnant. The first time I noticed it was when Toyin and I went out to eat. Our waitress was a black woman and she was so friendly to me. I thought it was just because I was pregnant. Toyin said, maybe that was why, but his guess was that it was because she knew I was carrying a black child in my belly. “You’re one of us now,” he said.
So, in some manner, becoming a part of a culture that I was never entirely privy to, have I renegotiated my status in the other culture that I was once a part of?
It’s a question I wonder about. And it’s why I know, viscerally, that racism still exists. Because I feel it inside my bones and in my heart.
I have no answer to this question. I am not interested in coining a term or floating around a new race debate (not really new). But it’s just something I wonder and I know that I will likely never have a very good answer for.