I am doing some work on internalized racism. As a white person, I benefit from a system that keeps other people downtrodden. I just never thought of things that are true for people of color (POC).
I feel weird talking about white privilege because I am not a privileged person per se. I am female, middle aged, working class to poor, divorced, no college degree, etc. I don’t see myself having a lot of opportunities so I struggle with the idea that I am privileged.
But I am.
I couldn’t have listed the ways, but a woman named Peggy McIntosh could and did. She listed 50 ways she is privileged by skin color.
Some of them seem a little silly, like being able to slap on a skin toned bandaid and having it more or less match your skin tone. Nowadays that people choose Smurf bandaids or emoji ones, blending into the skin doesn’t seem like that big a deal. But it’s like medicine assuming the male body is the standard, first aid assumes caucasian skin is the standard.
Make up is another similar situation. You’d think manufacturers just realized people come in darker skin tones. LA Girl had the darkest tones I could find in a cursory search. Most companies had a wide range of paler tones with a few mid-range browns. But I have seen some gorgeous very dark skin on ladies and they deserve to have colors that suit them as much as I do. Make up is a political issue.
I can also be assured that there will be a crayon in my skin color. Crayola used to call it Flesh but in the 60’s they renamed it Peach. In the white enclave where I grew up, I wondered why they didn’t call it skin color. But just like we learned some people have orange hair (hi, redheads), we learned that some people have brown skin. Then we played with a whole range from mahogany to sepia. We called them black people but we didn’t use actual black to color them, just like we were called white people we didn’t use actual white. Decades later Crayola would release collections of skin toned crayons for use in classrooms.
But there were other more serious benefits of whiteness in the list as well. Things like, if you feel you are not respected as a leader, you don’t have to question whether skin color has anything to do with it. I might question if it’s because I’m a woman, but I know truthfully it’s because I’m not in the habit of leading. I don’t have to think about whether it’s because I’m the wrong color.
I don’t have to teach my child about systemic racism because it impacts her physical safety. She has issues with being safe so that I’ve bought her a taser, but that has more to do with being female and naive than any other reason. I might have to teach her that young men have agendas they don’t disclose, but I don’t want to teach her that all men are jerks. Black parents pretty much do need to teach their children that all cops are jerks. Not because individual police officers are never racially sensitive, but because in a pinch, enough cops will react more strongly to a POC than to a white person. Enough to be deadly. Just watch the news. (Aside: A policeman is not your friend, he is there to enforce laws; it happens that many of our laws are unfairly slanted against people of color, drug possession laws for example; therefore a cop doing his job is enforcing racist ideals.)
One that really struck home for me is, as a white person I can expect to be able to arrange my life so that I interact almost exclusively with other white people. My first thought is, why would I do that? But truly I have done it without trying. My roommates are white. My daughter is white. I went to a gas station today, staff was white. A few of the customers were hispanic but most were white. I went to my support group, facilitator is Bengali (she has told me this), but the group was white. Called my doctor’s office, receptionist I spoke to is white. Doctor is from India but I didn’t need to speak to him personally. Went to a book store, the barista was black, one customer was Asian, but pretty much it was a bastion of whiteness. I don’t even think the books were penned by POC. The magazine section had mostly white faces, and I don’t think I saw an issue of Ebony or Jet. I think I have one black friend right now, three Asian, and one latinx. I am in a white ghetto even though Dallas is a multicultural city.
How can I expand my contact with other races and ethnicities? I don’t feel like I can just suddenly start showing up at events. How do I express interest without being a mere tourist, a consumer of culture? I went to a few powwows with a friend of mine years ago and I’d love to go again, but I am not first nations myself. I don’t feel like I can just barge in. I worry about being a weeaboo, that is, a Japanese wannabe. I love so much about their culture and it is not mine. How does that even work? I mean, I’m not French but if I followed French culture nobody would bat an eye. Someday I will go to Japan, but for now I just read and study the language. I figure if I go there, I owe them the courtesy of knowing some words. I may be bad at it, but I tried. This weekend I’ll go to North Texas Irish Festival. There probably won’t be many POC there. I’m not avoiding them but I won’t organically just run into them.
So I am working this out, one way or another. I want to be better than I am. Not that I’m bad, but there’s always room for improvement. Unpacking this knapsack is hard, but carrying the weight of it is killing me. Got to make the effort. I thought we were past a lot of racism, but the more I look around, the more I see we are not.