I’m kind of tired of the current conversation surrounding white privilege, which is basically, “What is white privilege?” and then an explanation. Nothing more, nothing less.
I think we’re stuck.
I’m happy that so many people are becoming more interested in talking about white privilege. It’s great, it really is. But we’re becoming a broken record.
I know that there are many people out there who still don’t get it and for those people, good, let’s keep the whole, “What is white privilege?” conversation going. But there are a whole lot of white people out there who are past that.
I’m not saying we’re fully enlightened and completely race conscious and there’s no more need for discussion. What I’m saying is that we need more.
It’s time to get the conversation flowing past the basic idea of white privilege. I don’t have all the answers, but one thing I do know is that white people are part of this conversation and we need to stay in this conversation.
I’m worried that too many white people are afraid to join because they think they don’t belong.
But I do not agree that we, as white people, should be shut out of the conversation. I think the fact that white people want to talk about racism is a good sign. It’s a sign that we want to see positive change.
It’s time for white folks to start having our own conversation about our own race.
Here are a few things to think about.
1. What can we do with our new found knowledge of our own privilege?
2. How can we all work together to boost up those without privilege in our current society? (Clearly affirmative action is only addressing some of the concerns.)
3. What are the biggest problems for those without privilege and how can we work together to change them?
4. How do we talk about our own skin color and what it means for us?
I’m going to leave you all to do some thinking for yourselves about the first three, but I am interested in finishing out this post with some thoughts on number 4 and then I’ll write some more on all of it later.
I Have Skin Color
I was never really aware of my own skin color until I was an adult. Not saying I didn’t know I was white.
But when it came to discussing race or culture or ethnicity, I was only aware of discussing others.
That’s one of the first things people need to understand about privilege. We are acutely unaware of our skin color.
We don’t have to think about how it affects us or wonder if the negative thing that happened to us was because of it.
It’s still difficult for me to understand how my whiteness has affected my life. I have some hazy memories/thoughts that float around of when or where or how my white skin may have shed positively on an outcome for me. But overall, it has never stood out to me.
When I left a bank with a loan, I never walked out thinking, “Damn, I am so glad I’m white! I never would’ve gotten that loan if I wasn’t!”
I have never rented a home and thought, “Wow, that property manager sure must have been happy to see a white person show up!”
I’ve never wondered if I was being watched in a store while shopping.
The only thing I have to equate racism in my personal experiences is sexism. In the professional world, I do have many memories of being acutely aware of my gender (but not my skin color).
A few examples: sitting in an interview, being offered way less money than I wanted and knowing that I would not likely to be able to bargain for more; being one of a few females in a conference room and watching all the other women suck up to the men to get what they wanted, knowing that my ideas would never be listened to unless I flirted or giggled, and refusing to do it. Just damn refusing.
(I want to mention here that I have, many times, asked for more money and most of the time, been refused. I am sick of that argument that women don’t ask for raises or higher salaries. Maybe statistically women don’t, but as someone who has and does, I can tell you that the answer is almost always uh, no, ain’t gonna happen lady.)
Suffice it to say, I’ve never given my skin color much thought until I was confronted with it in the new days of becoming a mother and being told that I now had a responsibility I hadn’t realized would come with becoming a mother. It was a task I was wholly unprepared for, even given my years of education on racial topics. I knew how to write about race for a newspaper audience. I knew how to roll my eyes when a white person said something completely ignorant about the racial divide.
But I did not know how to talk to my daughter about the issues she would face as a woman of color. And it’s something I’m still learning about. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I manage to keep one step ahead of her, so far, I think it’s been good.
Think About Your Own Skin Color
For the past few years, I’ve thought about being white, what it means for me and for my relationship with my daughter. I’ve had many eye-opening revelations. I’ve learned a lot. I have also stuck my foot in my mouth a lot. The one thing I’ve figured out is that I will never know it all. I cannot stop at just knowing that I have white privilege. I cannot ever stop. We, as a society, cannot ever stop. Let’s stop being stuck. So for now, think about your own skin color. Spend some time, thinking about it and internalizing it. It’s what people of color do. Maybe we can join them. I think that might be a good step in the right direction.
I was filled with thought because of a very tactful, respectful Facebook thread on my personal profile in which two of my mama friends of color disagreed on the subject at opposite ends.
The question was raised by a white friend, who has a white husband and children, “Is it okay to ask? And if not, what should be the protocol?” She genuinely wanted to know and said she never felt comfortable in these situations, wanting to “do it right.” But she wants to raise her children to be multiculturally aware.
I did give her my own answer, but what I wrote was less interesting (although I will share it) than the debate multiple answers by two of my mama friends, who are raising multi-racial children. I did not publish the entirety of the thread, but I think that I pulled the important points out and was careful to maintain the integrity of their statements, as this was not intended for publication at the time written.
I felt it was important to share because these are two very intelligent and thoughtful women, both of whom I respect deeply. I am happy that they agreed to let me publish their comments.
The Two Opposing Views
My friend Melek (pictured above) is a black woman and married to a white man, her children are lighter skinned than she is and have dark straight hair.
Her opinion was that the questions posed to me by this white woman about whether or not Annika was adopted was highly inappropriate and felt offended for me.
She said after a lifetime of inappropriate questions from white people — Melek is also lighter skinned than her own mother — she’s sick and tired of it and is no longer nice about it, preferring to stop them in their tracks with a quick comeback.
“I’ve had people argue with me about it (WTF?). At this point, my standard reaction is turning it back on them. So I would have said to this mom. ‘No, she’s not adopted. Is your daughter adopted?'”
Melek says asking personal family questions crosses the boundary of polite society.
“… This is inappropriate on a couple of levels IMHO, if I’m just going to be blunt about it. Which I’ve started to become just because I don’t like boundary crossing and I’m getting more ornery the older I get.”
When I wrote back to her that I had considered turning it around on them by asking if their children were adopted too, but that I hadn’t because, (believe it or not) I just hadn’t had the balls. Plus, I swear to godzilla, every damn time this happens, I am floored and unprepared.
Melek says that it was a long time coming for her. She’s been watching this scenario play out since she was a child and her mother was the one getting the inappropriate questions.
“Believe me, I was uncomfortable too. But it happened to me as a child, so I got to see my mother handle it. But then as an adult, I had gotten used to not having to deal with it. Now it’s been 5 years of it, since having biracial children, so I’ve had more experience.
She says its time that white people begin to feel the uncomfortable feelings when it comes to racial questions. She does it to protect her fellow biracial families and to make people think.
“The way I think about it is this. Whether or not they know it, people *should* feel uncomfortable being so bold as to go there with a complete stranger. So I’m going to make them as uncomfortable as they should have been in the first place, so maybe the next interracial family they encounter won’t have to deal with the same.”
Melek says that in part, white people are simply just clumsy in their questions. And it’s not so much that she minds the question, but it’s often the way they go about it.
“But you know what’s funny. Black people have gotten the same information out of me, but just more tactfully. I think it just goes back to that cultural difference WRT (with respect to) being familiar. But I know what they’re asking and they know I know. It’s just a certain….finesse.”
On the other hand, my friend, Mei Ling, of Asian decent with a white husband, and a daughter who looks more white than Asian, says that while she’s not crazy about racial questions, she also doesn’t mind them too much and sees it as a way to counterbalance racism, knowing that her interactions with them may color their view of all people of color.
She says she prefers to let the world be curious and tries not to let it bother her, reminding herself that the more people feel comfortable with asking questions, then perhaps they will become less racist and more open to a multicultural world view.
“The more people can say I know xyz and they are nice people the less racist they become. So by responding rudely to someone who talks about race or any other sensitive topic you are promoting a culture where we can not discuss things, where kids think there is something wrong with being different because everyone is sensitive about it and they come up with all sorts of explanations and in some cases grow up to be racist because everyone was uncomfortable so there must be something wrong with it.
“It is natural for humans to be curious about what is different and/or scared which can be the other side of curious. I prefer curious and open to scared. I would say that by responding in a way that is negative, rude, sensitive the underlying unconscious message is something is wrong with being the way you are especially to children. Children want to hear it from the people involved and from their parents. As much you don’t want to be an ambassador for anything if you are different in anyway that people are unused to you become one and because the brain especially children’s brains like to sort/organize information into multiple categories you really don’t want or I don’t want people to sort biracial in the category of fear, rude, sensitive etc.
“The biggest component of fear is the unknown. So if we want our children to live in a society that respects differences we need to role model that and what being sensitive says on unconscious and conscious levels is that it is not okay in some way.
“Does it get old having people ask questions, yes, then again, if you didn’t have a hang up would it be? Talking openly is the only way to normalize certain situations and we have the option of making that normal positive or normal negative. Many people still live in very homogenized areas especially kids who are only exposed to a limited about of environments/people. Kids come into this world color blind that are just trying to learn and categorize what they see and it is parents reactions mostly unconscious and little bit that teach them what they need to fear or not. In the same vein, they also naturally categorize things in known categories. By responding politely and in a matter of fact manner, you give them a new category and normalize what was previously unknown.”
Mei Ling’s attitude may also have formed from her own childhood. Her mother, being an immigrant, had a different view of the questions. (I’ve noticed this with Toyin. He says that as a child he never minded having someone ask to touch his hair, because then in return, he would ask to touch theirs. He says they were just being curious. But many African Americans consider it extremely rude to touch or ask to touch their hair.)
“My mom never responded rudely because she is from Taiwan and due to the cultural differences she was dealing with already never realized it was rude, plus she is a naturally friendly person who likes meeting new people. She did not see the question as anything different than asking someone’s name and hobbies. In the American culture, yes it is considered rude, but then ask yourself if you really want to continue cultural practices from a culture with so many people who are clearly negatively racist?”
Mei Ling also experienced some boundary crossing in Taiwan, where she visited as an adult.
“I do not disagree that there are boundaries that should not be crossed one of which is touching. I am a big believer in boundaries. Granted the first time I went to Taiwan, I can’t tell you how many people asked to touch me, touch my hair, take pictures of me with them and holding their babies. I’ve had my cousin assume my hair was dyed, I had uncle who told me I would never be good enough because my hair is not dark enough, my eyes were too light. The examples (examples are upcoming) Melek is giving those are definitely pretty awful and do fall into the category of protecting self and child. I also think that arguing with someone about their family situation is just plain rude any way you look at it that is beyond the pale…”
Melek disagrees with Mei Ling that we are ambassadors. She believes that people of color should be given the same respect that white people are shown. Physical attributes and questions about children’s parentage right in front of the children are simply out of line. Not only that, she thinks that these questions and attitudes only perpetuate racism.
“…I believe there are boundaries that should not be crossed. Why should my child have to wonder why someone would think he was adopted at 5 years old? I want to protect him from that for as long as possible.
“The problem with not teaching children appropriate boundaries is that they grow up to be adults without appropriate boundaries. I have had white adults (school administrators in high school) ask if my hair was “really my hair” and proceed to dig through it looking for weave tracks when I said yes it was.
“I have had adults argue with me in front of my child about whether he was mine. If you don’t know me or my family, you have no right to know anything so personal as how we became a family. What’s it to you? How does it affect your life to know whether my child is adopted?
“Again, I don’t think it’s unnatural for the child to ask or be curious. I do think it is incredibly inappropriate for the mother to ask, instead of using it as a teachable moment.”
Melek says she understands that in part, this attitude pertains to white privilege in that white people feel they can be familiar with strangers, whereas, that is simply not the norm for African Americans.
“However, again, this may be a cultural difference. Black Americans have different cultural norms, and I think other Americans (particularly white Americans) feel like it’s ok to be familiar with strangers, particularly black strangers. I don’t like that.”
I will wrap up this post in the next few days with my own thoughts on how I feel about these interactions. I will leave you with this. I agree with both of them — to a certain extent.
I also want to note that in this particular case, I will ask that you keep your comments very respectful of these two opinions. Both women were kind enough to let me publish this and both were written originally under the guise of some aspect of privacy. Not that my commenters aren’t typically respectful, that’s mostly for the trolls.
On a separate note, please check out Melek’s website Black Women Do VBAC! Melek is a natural birthing and VBAC advocate. She has recently started this project where she shares birth stories from black women who have done a VBAC, (vaginal birth after cesarean/C-section.)
Last week I saw this video posted around on social media and my first thought was, “Yeah, that’s cute. Nice message.” But then something gave me pause. So I watched it again. And it occurred to me that this video was a great example of white privilege in children.
Being surprised by racism is a privilege white children have that most children of color don’t have.
Watch it if you haven’t seen it yet:
So I watched it again. And again. And each time, it bugged me more and more.
With each viewing I noticed more and more things to be annoyed about.
Let me break it down.
1. It’s mostly white kids doing all the talking. There are eight white children. Two black children. One Asian child. And one child who looks biracial. The main child of color who talks is the Asian kid.
Are you telling me that you couldn’t find more black children for this video?
So, what’s wrong with white kids doing the talking? They don’t know what they are talking about. It looks like a bunch of white people got together and made this video to prove to the rest of the world that we are doing such a great job teaching our kids about racism.
2. All the white kids say all the same kind of stuff that pisses black people off when they talk about racism. “What? You mean there are still racists in the world? Well, not in my neck of the woods. That’s somewhere else in other parts of the country where they are all just a bunch of ignorant rednecks.”
3. No kids. Martin Luther King Jr. did not “fix” all that stuff. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. And it’s not just in certain parts of the country.
4. Here’s the big one. The black kids barely spoke. And when they do talk, they get cut off. The black boy who speaks the most even says that his friends “say racist stuff to be funny.” He doesn’t think it’s funny at all.
While I appreciate the sentiment of this piece, I find the nature of it flippant and disrespectful of the seriousness with which we should be discussing race with our kids. It’s one of those messages that is just ignorant enough to be dangerous. This video is a message that we are on the right path. “Hey look, our kids aren’t racist!” But they are, because they are refusing to see color. They aren’t being taught to look at things in a realistic light.
I think it’s very strange that the kids don’t seem to notice that the parents aren’t the same skin color. But I wonder if they just don’t “notice” because they’ve been taught not to notice.
What’s wrong with noticing skin color? Can’t these kids see? I can understand that they don’t care. But that they really didn’t notice it? Sorry, not buying that.
And I don’t blame the kids. They are just pawns in this video. Spouting all the naive rhetoric their parents or mentors have passed on as a Great Way to Teach Kids How Not To Be Racist.
But here’s the thing. If you’re going to teach kids about something, I mean really teach them, you have to teach the whole thing.
You can’t just say, “Everyone’s equal, treat everyone the same,” without explaining where that came from. Yes, of course the topics should be age appropriate. But as they age, kids need to hear about the atrocities in our country. They should be taught about slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, segregation, and white privilege, not just the Civil Rights Movement.
They should be shown that racism is not dead and how it has systemically produced hardships for large swaths of people of color.
We need to challenge all the rhetoric instead of spreading it.
Next time you hear some white person say, “Everyone’s equal” with a big smile and nothing else to go with it; or “Skin color doesn’t matter;” or “My kids are colorblind,” and it makes you a little sick to your stomach, then you’ll know you’re headed on the right path to teaching your kids the true nature of equality.
Yes, we are different. It’s okay to be different on the outside and still be the same on the inside. And it’s okay to notice the differences. That’s what will make us all equal. Knowing our differences and working together to ensure that we are all treated fairly anyway.
With the controversy surrounding Paula Deen and the n-word, it got me to thinking about how we white folks give ourselves a pass on racism in many instances. “I’m not a racist. I would never use the n-word!” type of thinking.
Using the n-word is not the only thing that white racists do. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of other things that white racists do. This is (very) mildly tongue in cheek. This is meant to make you think.It’s not about shame. I can write this because I’ve done/said many of things in my life too. Heck, still do some of ’em sometimes.
Racism is systemic. It’s endemic in our white American society. And the only way it can stop is when white people start owning up to it, recognizing it and then actively working against it.
How to Tell If You’re a White Racist
You (think you) don’t judge people based on skin color, but you judge a person of color based on clothes they wear.
You judge people of color based on the music they listen to.
You judge people of color based on the condition of their car.
You clutch your purse/belongings closer when you see a group of them walking and talking loudly.
You don’t clutch your purse/belongings closely when you are on the elevator with them, actively proving to yourself that you are not a racist.
You cross the street to get away from one or a group of them.
You don’t cross the street, actively proving to yourself that you aren’t a racist.
You have referred to hair of another culture in words that don’t normally describe hair, i.e. puffs or balls.
You describe skin color with words that are typically designated for food, i.e., caramel, chocolate, brown sugar.
You have ever told a racially insensitive joke.
You have ever laughed at a racially insensitive joke.
You use/have used the n-word among white people and assumed that they would be okay with it.
You heard the n-word in a group of white people, felt offended, but didn’t tell them they were being racist jerks.
You think the best way to teach about racism and promoting racial harmony is through literature.
Your child goes to a school where they have pictures of Martin Luther King on the walls, but they don’t actively seek inclusion and the majority of students are white.
You tell your white children that “skin color doesn’t matter.”
You don’t talk about race or skin color with your kids.
You don’t have any friends of another race.
You do have friends of another race, but you never talk to them about racism.
You say that you’re colorblind.
You talk about other races with words like “culture” and “diversity” but you feel uncomfortable hearing people mention skin color.
You don’t bother to learn how to properly pronounce names that aren’t similar to ones you know how to say.
You practice cultural norms from third world countries with the mindset that it must be more natural, but you’ve never been to those countries, don’t know anyone from there and have the only reason you think it’s more “natural” is because you have a fancy sling/cosleeping gadget that was really fucking expensive and so you must justify its naturalness.
You ask people “where are you from?” even though they dress like an American and don’t have an foreign accent. What you really mean to say is, “What is your ethnicity?” or What is your ancestry?”
You say things like: “Jewed down,” “Mexican shower,” “Ghetto,” “Slum (when talking about large instances of cultural minorities).”
You see a parent and child of differing skin color and assume the child is adopted.
You are overly interested in the hair of people who are not of your race.
You think that people of other races smell bad.
You didn’t know that in black America, Bill Clinton was considered the first black president.
You think that racism is dead because a black man was elected president.
You downplay racist complaints from people of color.
You think that racism is only something that happens with negative intent.
You don’t know how you’ve benefited from white privilege.
You’ve said, “Yeah, well black people can be racist too.”