How I discovered I am white

by renegademama

When I was 14 or so, I asked my grandmother why we didn’t have a “white club” at school. I don’t recall her response, but I do remember feeling particularly smug and vaguely angry that there was a “Latino” club and a “Chinese” club but not a “white” club.

Oh the unfairness! Oh the disparity! Why do we celebrate their heritage but not ours?

And I didn’t think about race again, at least not much, until I dated an African American man in college and a stranger whispered “nigger lover” in my ear one night as he walked by us in a grocery store. I was shocked. My boyfriend was less shocked.

I concluded the stranger was some strange exception of horrible racist creature. He was, after all, approximately 97 years old. (Well, 70, but he appeared 97 to my fresh young eyes.)

And then, a few months later, when my boyfriend’s roommate took me aside and asked why I have to “take a good black man who was in college,” when so many black men were incarcerated. I concluded she was crazy. And mean.

She hurt my feelings. Poor Janelle.

Beyond these few moments, and a couple others, I didn’t really think about race. Well, I thought about how people made arguments “about race” when clearly they were not. I mean why do they make race an issue? It’s not an issue. I never see it.

 

Oh yeah, I had America all figured out: If ya work hard, you get ahead. And if you don’t get ahead, it’s because you made bad decisions. And if you get arrested it’s because you’re breaking the law, and people who break the law are more likely to be black. Obviously. That’s why they’re always getting arrested. (How’s that for some cyclic logic?)

I knew this to be true because:

  1. America was awful to black people but that was fixed during the Civil Rights movement;
  2. Therefore, we are all on equal footing now and if you don’t succeed it’s because you aren’t trying.

I learned it in school. It was fact. School teaches the truth.

And then, graduate school, and Professor Lee.

Oh, shit.

“Not all white people are white supremacists, but all white people benefit from white supremacy.”

WHAT THE WHAT?

She made us repeat it like a mantra. At least 3 times. I read Tim Wise’s White Like Me and bell hooks and David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness and learned how our economic systems benefit from racism and we read about the history of American immigration laws (have you ever read them?) and colonialism in the Philippines and elsewhere (yes, America has colonies but we call them “territories”), and we read about redlining and white flight (ever wonder how black people ended up in urban centers?), and we read some DuBois and Omi & Winant and literature by people of color and all of the sudden I realized I had been fucking lied to.

 

I understood America through white eyes. I understood the world through the mainstream, polished glasses of a nice clean history of “we used to be bad now we’re not the end.”

Go team.

I discovered I was white.

“Not all white people are white supremacists, but all white people benefit from white supremacy.”

She wanted us to see that as individuals, not all white people are bigoted. But she also wanted us to see that every white person – whether they are bigoted or not – benefits from the racially structured hierarchies in America. They benefit from racism.

Yes. Even me. Even though I am not “racist.”

How? And she explained whiteness. She explained that “white” is the standard. White is the background against which difference is measured.

In other words, it’s “white” until further notice. It’s “white” until proven otherwise. It’s “white” or it’s the “other,” and it has nothing to do with actual numbers, percentages of “minority” population. It has to do with power. It has to do with the culture of power. What do I mean? If a comedy film features a white family, it’s a comedy. If it features a black family, it’s a comedy for people of color. Think about it.

White is the standard. And I’m white. Therefore, I am standard, and that benefits me.

When I walk into a room, I don’t fear that I’m representing my whole race. I have never acted badly then thought to myself “Oh shit, I sure hope they don’t hate all white people now.”

Or, in other words, even though pretty much every Columbine-type-school-kid-murderer is white, I’ve never developed a distrust for white, socially awkward high school kids.

A few do not represent the whole.

 

“Privilege is passed on through history.”

Whatever. I grew up POOR!

But then I thought about how, in the late 1940s, my grandmother was the first woman editor of the University of Washington’s newspaper. After she graduated, she and my grandpa bought and ran small newspapers in northern California. The family business they built employed my family members for 40+ years.

In the late 1940s, black people were not allowed to sit in the front of the bus.

How can I deny that my grandparents’ access to education and economic success did not materially affect me in a positive way, directly, through my father? I thought about the loans my parents were able to take with financial backing from my grandparents, and how that benefitted me. My life. My quality of life. The neighborhoods we lived in. The schools we attended. My cultural knowledge.

 

“Why don’t we have ‘White History Month?’”

Because White History Month is every month other than February, asshole.

Oh, shit indeed.

 

“The culture of power determines which version of history is told and retold.”  

Prior to the Women’s Rights Movement, women were stuck in the home while men went to work and supported them. But then women were liberated and able to get jobs working outside the home.

Right?

WRONG.

White, middle to upper class women were “stuck in the home.” Women of color have ALWAYS “worked out of the home.” In fact, women of color were probably working in the homes of the white women about which our history is written.

So one of the most oft-repeated, trusted narratives about American history erases the history of women of color. It is dead fucking wrong. It isn’t even kind of right. They are erased. Non-existent. Unseen.

They are Chapter 10. They are a chapter that ends with “but then Martin Luther King, Jr., and all is well.”

They are Chapter 10. I am chapters 1 through forever, and every day I cash in on that fact, whether or not I support the systems making that happen for me.

 

I realized the reason I had never thought about race was because I was of the privileged one, because I didn’t have to, NOT BECAUSE RACIAL DISPARITY DIDN’T EXIST. I didn’t have to think about race because I was having a fundamentally different life experience than people of color. But I could ignore them, because of my privilege.

I was able to hang out in meltin-pot, “post-racial” land because the structures of this society allow (and encourage) me to “not see race” while continually feeding me narratives about “equality,” “multiculturalism,” “color-blindness” and “ghetto urban lifestyles.”

I spent a lot of time in graduate school in the library, writing at a computer. Like, hours. Whole days. When I had to pee, I would ask the person sitting next to me to watch my stuff so I didn’t have to pack it all up and carry it down the hall to the bathroom. I did it a 100 times.

Once I looked over at the person next to me and my first thought was “Oh you can’t ask him. He’ll steal your stuff.

He was a young black man wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt.

I was sickened at myself. I was horrified at my response. There was absolutely nothing different about him from the 100 other people I didn’t hesitate to ask, except he was black.

I realized that not only do I benefit historically and presently, every day, from the color of my skin, I have also internalized cultural narratives regarding blacks and whites that manifest whether or not I support them.

“Hey, would you mind watching my stuff for a minute?”

 

But what now?

Does it mean my grandmother’s accomplishments are less badass? Nope. Does it mean I do not “deserve” success? Nope. Does it mean that I am a bad person? Nope.

It means that we live in a highly racialized society rooted in a history of discrimination and that we have a long way to go. It means that watching “The Help” and feeling bad is not enough. Sentimentality is not action. It means that I have had an advantage over people of color. Yes, always. Yes, no matter what. Because even if you’re poor and white you can join the culture of power by learning the walk and talk. But you can’t change your skin color.

From the day I was first introduced to this “other story,” I couldn’t get enough. Not because I’m some sort of saint or conspiracy theorist, but because I was curious. I was interested out of a sense of shared humanity. And I was fucking angry that I had been swindled. I wanted the truth. Or, I wanted a fuller picture. I wanted more sides.

That, my friends, is pathetic in its privilege.

I learned in graduate school what every person of color knows through life experience. I learned in graduate school that we weren’t “fixed” during the Civil Rights movement.

But when this information was presented to me I felt a sense of relief, because I think deep down I always knew something was terribly wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

 

I don’t understand the white rage I keep reading on the internet.

Just another dead thug.

He got what he deserved.

Run over the protestors. They’re making me late for work.

STOP PLAYING THE “RACE CARD.”  

I don’t understand it. What’s at stake, people? What’s at stake in accepting that racism exists? Or even entertaining the thought? Are people really so stupid they can’t fathom that other people might be having a different experience than they are? Is it really that hard to comprehend that something can exist EVEN THOUGH YOU DON’T PERSONALLY SEE IT?

(Although you’ll see your privilege if you’re willing to examine your life honestly.)

Why the hell are people so unwilling to listen?

 

Let’s think about this for a moment. A whole community of people are saying this exists. Data shows racial disparities in economic, education, justice, and healthcare systems. Basically, ALL OVER THE PLACE. Unarmed black boys and men are killed without recourse. Repeatedly. The comment sections of these crimes are riddled with assholes shouting “Good. One less loser.”

Still people claim “Racism doesn’t exist.” But here’s the thing: The only way you can discount the words, lives, efforts and voices of hundreds of thousands of people is THROUGH THE RACISM YOU CLAIM DOESN’T EXIST.

You can only ignore them if they’re aren’t worth hearing.

You can only ignore them if they’re liars. If they’re just looking for a handout.

If they’re not human like you.

You can only ignore them by using the very narratives you claim aren’t happening.

And let’s be honest, we can only ignore them because it’s easy, because we’ll never have to walk a day in their shoes, and it’s just so much more pleasant to turn away, look away, focus back on our lives.

But the sand is getting skimpy and our heads are showing. At this point, if we’re not part of the solution we’re part of the problem.

I’m using my voice to talk to you. I’m using my voice to talk to my kids. But it isn’t enough. We’re looking for places to volunteer. I’m looking for actions I can take.

We’re at a crossroads. This cannot go on. We’re crushed under the weight of hatred, history, silence, violence, bullshit media and the insidious defense of systematic unequal distribution of resources, and at some point, none of us will be able to breathe.

 

It feels small and pathetic to be one person in this mess. I feel stupid and vulnerable and slightly insane to be writing this here, now. But fuck my feelings. Fuck feeling uncomfortable. Fuck the nonsense that keeps us quiet and content and cozy in our little post-racial dreamland.

They can’t breathe, and I’m breathing just fine.

And that is precisely the problem.

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more stuff I shouldn't have said out loud:

  • Annie Jadin

    HALLELUJAH.

    • Nicole Musto

      So perfectly said. As a social work student, I had a very similar experience of shock when I first learned about my white privilege. It’s unfortunately that the vast majority are so blind to it, but it’s something that can’t be unseen.

    • Ryan

      Yes, racism exists. The same way you can’t stop idiots from violence at protests, you can’t explain how privilege works to those who are happier being ignorant and benefiting. We need to stop wasting our time and energy appealing to either group.

      The biggest problem is no one ever talks about solutions. Sure it’s important to bring awareness but it can’t serve a purpose until it goes somewhere, it has some direction, constructive steps and goals. People get frustrated when they just see crying, leaders are needed to take responsibility and move things forward.

      • angel

        It has to be discussed because people cannot and will not address or change what they don’t understand! I know EVERYONE won’t get it or want to change, however, as displayed by the author, knowledge is key to opening doors for solutions. You cannot fix something without 1st acknowledging its broken!

    • Tabassum Razi

      Hi!
      As a recent immigrant to NZ and a Muslim to boot (with baggage) I replaced the colour with not just black but brown yellow …and it still applies. Thank you for making me think beyond my sole existence. I’ll read those people you mentioned and then talk again.

  • Nancy Lowell

    Janelle,
    This is such a wonderfully clear and well written piece. I love Jon Stewart, but he sure could have used you there when he did a lousy job of explaining white privilege to Bill O’Reilly!

    For the first time in my life I feel ashamed to be American, and you have articulated that better than anyone or anything else I’ve read.
    Thanks

  • Kristol

    I have been following you for some time (your article on Caillou got him banned from my house before my son is even old enough to care about TV outside of pretty colors) but on this I have to speak.

    I want to hug you, I want to say thank you. You’re my girl crush so I could probably kiss you at this point too. But thank you for putting into words what so many people are scared to admit or to say. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for wanting to learn more and sharing that curiosity with others.

    With the recent events as as someone raising a baby who will one day grown up to be a black man, I am so scared, so overwhelmed by having to figure out how to explain to him that one day, no matter how good of a person he is, no matter how many life lessons I try to teach him, he will still be a scary black man to someone. That terrifies me more than anything I have ever experience.

    Voices like yours, that speak when the easiest thing to do would be to keep pretending that everything is fine because it is a fear you do not have to experience are going to help foster change in this world. Voices like yours and mine are going to make this a better world for all our children, not just some of our children.

    I sincerely thank you.

    • renegademama

      This comment is everything. Thank you.

  • Lynn

    I’m consistently confused about the inability to understand that any person’s experience of the world and culture very much matters.

    Where do we learn this? Why do so many stick to their idea of how things are/should be?

    “I would never do something like that” is the kind of statement people say regularly and yet, no one has any fucking clue.

    How is it that we feel we know ourselves so well that some experience/context that we’ve never been through can somehow be predicted with certainty?

    We can’t even know ourselves within virtual or imagined scenarios, how can we even think we know what it’s like for anyone else?

    • Emily

      Yes. People *are* unable to fathom other people’s experiences. I mean, yes, that’s very difficult to do, even when you’re thinking about it. But there are so many people who are not even willing to admit that things are different for different people, even when they’re confronted by it. It makes them angry. I can’t understand (there I go again) why they find it so threatening, or if it’s not threatening, why they take it so personally.

    • Emily

      Huh, I tried to reply to you and I don’t see it. Basically, I agree. I was saying that I can’t fathom (see what I did there?) why some people get so angry at the idea that other people have different experiences. I also meant to add one particular example I thought was funny, since it didn’t involve a hot-button topic. An article made it to the front page of Reddit (yeah, I know) about synesthesia. I went in to read some people’s own stories and talk about mine as well–I’m a grapheme-color synesthete, the most common type–and everybody was having a great time talking about their idiosyncracies and reading about other people’s. Except for the handful who refused to believe there was such a thing, and insisted that everybody else was lying to get attention. Like, what?

  • kate

    This has always been a “happy place” for me to come to on rough days. Now it’s just another place to read about personal politics. Like there are not enough of those already. 🙁 so bummed.

    • Emily

      Yeah, it sucks that we have oppressed voices trying to be heard and people in positions of power who want to boost those voices in their own forums. I mean, it’s not like you could’ve imagined she was going to be serious about race from the title or anything. She should’ve written a second post right afterwards so we all had something lighthearted to read for free so this “downer” stuff could’ve gotten buried as soon as possible. Like, we all agree it should be said, but nobody actually wants to read it, right?

      • katie

        Like, no, we don’t all agree.

    • Jennifer

      “Personal politics”? I’m pretty sure you missed the point here. Sorry the world isn’t happy 100% of the time for you.

    • Gina

      Not “personal” politics. EVERYONES politics. What are you afraid of?

    • erica

      oh booboo. it must be so hard to keep breathing that sand. think you might have missed the entire point…maybe go find another self congratulatory sunshine and roses happy parenting place? soule mama comes to mind. this blog has never been just one thing or another thing…one of Janelle’s strengths as a writer is addressing all kinds of realities and making them personal while still creating a place for people to identify their own weaknesses, strengths, suffering, trials, triumphs and points they might like to change in their own lives. privilege is acting like something doesn’t exist just because it’s not obvious how you benefit.

    • Lily

      And now you’ve made it all about you. How sad.

    • Christella

      Yeah, I mean personal politics have nothing to do with the happy places we choose to go, at all. In fact, why don’t we go back to a time when everyone just didn’t discuss this type of stuff… that seems like a much better alternative.

    • renegademama

      My goal has never been to make people feel comfortable. That was an unintended side-effect created by you, my friend.

      Lots of blogs are happy places. I believe somebody suggested Soulemama. Excellent idea. Warm, soft, Amish made. So pretty to look at!

      Cheers.

      Janelle

      • katie

        It’s not about “comfort” it’s just about everything being so saturated with posts like this. And having a place to go to too get a breather. Since when does a difference of opinion have to be met with so much hostility?? Btw, I’m well aware of racial tensions. I’m a white woman with two biracial children in the south. But I guess now honesty just isn’t P.C. one must always agree or be patronized?? There is no value in differing perspectives?? I must have missed that memo…

        • Keira

          This is a topic that people feel passionately about–no doubt about that. Katie, it’s a bummer that Janelle has lost you, but she apparently felt she needed to take a stand. I thought she, if nobody else, handled your comment respectfully.

          I am always surprised when readers complain about tone on someone else’s blog or FB page. It’s as if they think the page is a democracy where they have a vote on what is appropriate and what isn’t. I think it’s great that you voiced your opinion. An opinion may or may not be embraced though. It may be that we all will have to deal with Janelle and her blog as they are, rather than as you’d like them to be. That, or move on.

          Can’t please all the people all the time…

        • Kate2

          As a woman nearing 70, I am well aware of my years of easy social expectations. I’m a teacher and respected. White? That’s just a bonus. So when I see someone younger and strong enough to voice an opinion and back it up with personal experiences, I am proud to read and old enough to understand. Those who fight over personal experiences must have nothing to share, nothing to extend the conversation productively, and I pity them. If nothing else, black or white – or Black or White – or Afro-American or white, we should be able to see that problems still exist and be about to offer constructive information or opinion. Thank you, RMom, for speaking your mind.

  • Rachel

    I love you so much. Thank you, from one privileged-but-awake mama to another.

  • Matt

    I’m gonna read that a few more times, all of it.

    Thanks for the insight and honesty.

  • Jenny

    Thank you, Janelle, for breaking down your personal process on understanding white privilege. You are brave to use this platform for serious social and political commentary even though you, and many of us, “feel small and pathetic to be one person in this mess.” There is no other way to be other than one person standing up and speaking next to another one person. Let’s keep talking about it and asking ourselves what we can do as groups of one persons.

  • Jenn

    Preach! More than anything I love that you frame this from with your younger self’s perspective.

  • Christine

    I appreciate you and this piece deeply. Thanks for your heart!

  • Emily

    This is so important. EVERYBODY has to be saying it. All the time. Not with every word, but you can never forget the subtext. People with power, whether they chose it or asked for it or not, cannot allow themselves to forget the position they’re in and how it forces others to interact with them. We do have a long way to go, and it’s because it just takes that long to break the kind of insidious messages we get all the time. Just this morning, I got irritated because we were watching Bubble Guppies, and there were three characters in the scene: a white, uh, Guppy?; a Guppy of color, and a wicked witch. (Who was green.) The witch, however, was voiced by a woman with a very iconic, black American accent, and both Guppies’ voices were clearly white-bread, middle class. I let it irritate me because if I don’t, I’ll forget to notice. How fucking entitled is that?
    I’ve been thinking about what I can do for my kids. I know they won’t get anything worthwhile in school during Black History Month, unless we’re very lucky, and even then they won’t get “history that, oh yeah, includes black people” outside of it. Our area doesn’t have as many black people as some areas, and we know very few, so the kids won’t see that as a “normal” way of being unless we ride a careful line of consciously exposing them without exoticizing it. So for Christmas, I got my daughter an 18-inch Madame Alexander doll, and I decided to get her the black one. (I thought it had the prettiest outfit, anyway.) And at Half-Price Books, I found and bought a copy of 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African-American History. I think the format of short paragraphs introducing concepts and people will act as a portal to further information, and I need to read it, too, because I bet I don’t know more than 5 of those 1001 things.
    Incidentally, there are a number of good videos on the subject of Black History Month, of which I watched a few this year and they got me thinking, but the one I’ll recommend here is the one by Akilah Hughes (Smoothiefreak on YouTube, @akilahobviously on Twitter). I love her videos anyway, and anybody who’s interested should watch that one. And her Christmas Cookies for Singles, because shit’s hilarious.

  • sarah

    I have always loved your parenting posts, and now I love you even more. This is sport on. It gives voice to the thoughts in my head. I will share this with my students.

  • Sara Howard

    Love

  • Anna-Monet

    I wouldn’t mind seeing this 15 times on my fb feed. I’ll do my part to get that started 🙂

  • Nikita

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now. I’m not a mom (yet). But I appreciate your perspective on parenting.

    But, I just want to say thank you. I’ve been way too emotional lately with being too many peoples “one black friend” and I’m exhausted. Tired of repeating myself. With that said, imma just forward this post for the next couple days. Lolol thank you. Thank you.

  • Momtothree

    I remember talking to my children about segregation. About how young black men and women couldn’t go to university with white people. Or use the same bathroom, or ride a bus. My children, then 13, 10 and 7 were appalled. I explained how change came about, slowly, how things were put into motion to become what they are today. How bodyguards had to escort the first black students to college. Then my eldest read “The Help” and went with his class to see the film. He was shocked at the portrayal of bigotry and hatred, dismayed to see how it was to be poor and black, and considered to be so little.
    Today, in multi-cultural Europe, the extreme right-wing parties are doing a brisk trade. Their numbers are swelling. Intolerance and racial hatred are back on the menu. Insecurity and immigration issues, combined with unemployment and a sluggish economy are making race an issue once more. I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking their peers who happen to be Asian or Black are somehow inferior. I would like to think I have taught them tolerance and respect, regardless of race.
    Reading you though J, I realize how futile this is, since I am looking at the world from a comfortable, fuzzy white place. But at least I’m not teaching open hatred, intolerance, or white supremacy, like some South African families apparently still do. Is it enough to be aware and indignant? What will bring about lasting change? When will it be time to stop being indifferent to the imbalance in the world and the global challenges we all face?

  • IKnowItAll

    How condescending and patronizing, taking on the mantle and speaking/apologizing for every white person for the actions of other people, who aren’t all white, by the way. Example: I just read a thread with a diatribe from a black man about how racist Native Americans are, more so than Caucasians (because, you know, white people are all exactly the same, evidenced by the way you expect kudos for admitting YOUR secret, in your blackest-heart-of-hearts, yet another privileged mother with a “mommy blog”).
    Please just stop trying to appropriate the very real problems of a group of people and make it all about you and your hollow mea culpas, taking the issue of the day and exploiting it f
    or Internet traffic.

    • Hezaa

      Nothing you say negates Janelle’s post or proves wrong any point she makes. In what way do you benefit from dismissing her words and making accusations about her intent? How does that help you? What are you improving?

    • Sarah R.

      Sorry, “IKNOWITALL”, but you lost all credibility by posting under that pseudonym.

      Janelle – I love your posts. I don’t typically read blogs, but yours is the exception. Keep up the great work and don’t let these haters get you down (not that you give a rat’s ass what they say, right?)

      • renegademama

        Additionally, he/she lost all credibility with me at the casual misogynistic drop of “mommy blogger” as an insult. I’m thinking troll. Probably not worth our time.

        The thing I’ve learned about trolls is that if you feed them, they only get hungrier.

        And thank you, Sarah. I never let the bastards get me down.

        Cheers!

    • PretaniVirago

      IKNOWITALL – I’ll bet you’re an absolute HOOT at parties.

  • Rita Arens

    Great explanation, Janelle.

  • CSmith

    I grew up in an area that was less than half white, so I understand first hand how differently black, latino and whites are treated in everyday situations. When all of us 8 year olds were filching chocolates from the corner stores, the black kids were the ones detained every. single. time. My own kids have grown up in a less diverse area and I have had a time explaining “white privilege” to them. I likened it to all of us being in a huge race with money, toys, and recognition being awarded along the way. All of the white people get to start 1000 feet ahead, the ones with the wealthiest parents being in the very front. The non-whites may very well win prizes or even finish in first place, but they’re going to have to work harder to get there.

    • Keira

      CSSmith – I hope you added your candy store comment to #crimingwhilewhite. It is perfect. That is a very good example of what white people don’t see. Or if they have, they haven’t been around black people they love and/or respect. That particular void is the hardest to fill because they won’t believe they deny basic human respect to someone based on race, so their fingers are firmly planted in their ears. ‘Lalalalalala, i can’t HEAR you… lalala.” But there are people with open ears. We just gotta keep talking.

    • Marie

      This made me think of a story I saw floating around FB a few weeks back about a teacher’s explanation of privilege. Essentially she had everyone in the lecture hall/classroom/etc. wad up a piece of paper and attempt to throw it into the wastebasket she placed at the front. The only rule was that you had to stay in your chair to do it. People Everyone in the back of course complained while the people in the front were less likely to be fully aware of their privilege.

  • Elisabeth

    I never have, and never will understand racism. It has never made any sense to me, even from the youngest age.

    I remember as a child learning about Hitler and the concentration camps – I couldn’t understand where his idea of which people were ‘good’ and ‘bad’ came from and why he got to decide.

    Again as a child, I watched Roots (probably from behind the loungechair as I should have been in bed) and again could not understand who exactly decided that coloured people were to be treated as slaves. Who got to decide that?

    40 years down the line I still don’t get it. I don’t understand it and in my gut and my heart, nobody will ever be able to convince me that somebody is worth less than the person next to them simply because of the shade of their skin.

  • Cheryl

    Janelle,
    Thank you thank you thank you for one of the best written pieces I have read in, well, forever. As a white mom to inter racial sons, as a daughter who was shunned from her family for marrying a black man, as a loving teacher and coach at an extremely diverse high school, and as a believer in the good in people…I need to tell you that you captured so many of my thoughts and wrote them so beautifully. Well done.

  • Naomi

    Thank you so much for this. Peggy MacIntosh’s article on white privilege (Unpacking the Invisible Backpack) is a good follow up to this for anyone still wondering how they inherit privilege in their day to day lives. One question; I’m dying to hear your thoughts on Tim Wise! I’m so curious because I really liked the lectures he’s given that are posted on YouTube.

    Thanks for this, I hope lots of people read it with open ears. 🙂

  • Danielle

    Thanks so very much for writing this. It’s funny because, when you read someone’s blog and like their writing, you imagine that you like them as a person as well, even if you don’t know them. And in the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading the usual round of blogs that I always do (it gets boring being a SAHM) and I’m seeing so many of the writers that I thought I admired and liked so much just. not. touching. this. And it’s kind of like, really, we’re going to talk about sleep training again today when our country in utter turmoil? How is this not consuming everyone’s thoughts as much as mine?? And so it’s unbelievably wonderful to click over to you and see that it’s in your thoughts too. I agree with everything you wrote, beautifully stated as usual, so thank you again.

  • Somechick

    Awesome article, you go girl. Speaking to the majority as a group is never easy and there is always backlash (something I have experienced personally from an online article), but in the midst of this group there are shining lights that break the blindness, these are the one’s that help create the change the rest of the world is craving. Keep cutting through the darkness, the negative nellies will soon leave and you will be left with a sense of pride that you atleast sparked a conversation and new thoughts. Keep going girl!

  • Vanessa D.

    This is so well done. So very well done. I especially got the part where you talked about thinking twice before asking a black man to watch your stuff. I have a black friend who was once asked by a white woman to watch her purse while she went to the washroom. He told me how he was thinking to himself “Really? You’re asking me to watch your purse?” he talked about it for a long time, how unexpected that was.

  • lisa

    growing up, i remember wanting to be black. when asked why…i would tell people that I would rather be a victim of a problem, than part of the cause.

    I grew up in a home that did not allow even jokes to be told that contained even a hint at racism. I was taught at a young age, that another person’s sexuality was not my business and should not be scrutinized by me.

    my mom wanted us to *be the change*…

    i had no real clue what racism was. but i knew enough, to not want to be white.

    we are *all* racist…sometimes…i have been on buses where I am the only white person…and I wonder if they think I hate them. I have had a black woman suck her teeth and swivel her head at me while she puts her finger up to my face and looks at me with big *puhlese, cracker..* eyes….and shriveled inside because she was now an *angry black woman,* and not just an angry woman.

    i am guilty
    we are all guilty
    even those of us who are *not like that*

    i appreciate your words. Unity…imo….is key

  • Roxanna smith

    just wrote about this today – my white privilege. How silence only perpetuates the problem. Thank you for using your blog to speak about racism and white advantage. It needs to be spoken about, aired out.

  • Jim

    Well done Janelle. Growing up in the “white bread” suburbs of Washington D.C. during the 60’s & 70’s, I watched the riots after MLK was assassinated and drove around the abject poverty in Anacostia and knew those folks had fewer options than I did but never really thought beyond that to the true impact on their lives. Hey, they could vote and do everything I did…Except where society didn’t let them. Nice bit of writing…

  • david

    Compassion is key to all of this, but I don’t see the usefulness of your post beyond encouraging humility…which is good for all of us…but also soiling gratitude. Human exploitation has only recently become a crime against humanity, we have all benefited from the atrocities and exploitations of others; regardless of race, religion, ethnic group and so on. Widen your vision…and you will see the horror that is exploitative humanity throughout time and only recently curtailed. The cool things is that white guys (among others) encourage the curtailing. Think of the Geneva Convention, think of slavery that still goes on outside the western world…
    I am so grateful to be a westerner, living in a world made better by those who gave me so much.

    • renegademama

      The “usefulness” I hoped for in this post is that people who have not yet made the journey from “America is the melting pot of equality” to “America is built upon racial hierarchies” will read my story/journey and perhaps take a look at their own lives.

      I am obviously speaking to people who believe as I believed before, and, judging from my newsfeed, there are many.

      Thanks for reading.

      Janelle

      • david

        You are welcome ;-). I am not sure you understood my post. But many of your readers really like what you say.

        • KH

          I think she understood, but she was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt and not focus on your insinuations of cultural imperialism and white supremacy.

          I can’t believe your inane comment got 3 likes.

          • david

            Catching up…KH, wow! Hind sight is 20/20, as our democracy becomes even more morally grounded, we see clearer the errors of the past. In the now, only humility and compassion, and a sense of deep gratitude for the sacrifices and gifts of those who preceded us and gave us this great, imperfect nation, these are the things that will continue to move use into a deeper sense of community. The old word is melting pot…the new word is community. We can get better at this, but not without gratitude for smart white guys who helped us with their wisdom and their flaws

  • Amanda

    Thank you for sharing your voice and for acknowledging that voices need to be heard. If you are not a part of the change, you are a part of the system. A system that perpetuates racism.

  • Rebekah Nemethy

    I appreciate your empathy. As a white woman who grew up with a really racist mother, I understand the guilt, and I also learned things from your post that I’d never heard before. We all have our own perspectives and our perspectives lead to this tunnel vision. Things that don’t impact our own lives don’t exist right? Therefore if you aren’t racist, racism doesn’t exist. If nobody is racist to you, racism doesn’t exist. (and the fact that racism is taboo and not spoken of in the mainstream adds to this too) We are all guilty of these biases, even if you’re technically innocent of contributing to hate.

    At the same time though, I think race is imagined. You could argue that I’m a privileged white girl so WTF do I know? But at the same time I grew up poor, I grew up around drugs and I overcame a lot obstacles by taking care of myself and believing in myself. It wasn’t fucking easy, but I did it. If you automatically believe that you are at a disadvantage because of money, or social class, or race then it’s a lot harder to do ANYTHING; I know, I had the pity party too.

    Don’t get me wrong, racism exists, that is, hate exists. But I think the problem really lies in how you identify yourself. If you assume you’re hated by all white people because you’re black then you put off an energy around you, you already hate the white guy next to you because you think he hates you. If you’re taught that your race will hinder you throughout your life, and you actually believe it, you’re already halfway to a life a failure. If you’re taught that you’re race doesn’t matter, and you can do anything, then you’re already halfway to success.

    In that sense, I guess I am privileged, nobody ever told me a white girl can’t do something. So maybe I didn’t have the racial identity to hinder my mindset, but I did have the poor identity, and the white trash identity, you have to overcome your identity, that’s where the answer lies.

    I 100% agree that it’s BS how much history is erased from the books, there are probably more lies than you or I could ever imagine!

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. Your interview on Shrini’s show was the most inspiring thing I’ve ever heard. Thanks for that =)

    • Leela

      Rebekah, at the end of the day you can do anything you want despite your racial background/financial challenges. However, Janelle made the point that if you are white, you can “blend in”. As a person of color, there is no blending no matter how successful you are. If you as you say with “a poor, white trash identity” were to put on a suit and walk into a high end store, no one would make any assumptions about your background where as it would be the exact opposite for a person of color. The treatment in that store would be completely different.
      Also not all black people who have had racist experiences, assume that all white people hate them. That is not what we carry around in our minds as we go about our daily lives.
      On the contrary (most) black people do not teach their children that their race will hinder them throughout life. They are taught to work even harder because of it. Unfortunately, you don’t see that becasue that isn’t what is represented in the media.
      I am happy for you that ypu were able to “overcome” your identity. Please let me know how many degrees I will need to procure in order to overcome mine. I already have two and it doesn’t seem to be working.

      • Rebekah

        Leela, thanks for clarifying that for me. Except I definitely could not blend in as a nicely dressed person in an office environment or in a high end store. I don’t walk the walk and I don’t talk the talk of those people. You ever see Pretty Woman? That’s more my pace in talking to “classy” people.

        Also, I hope you don’t take what I said the wrong way. I don’t think that all black people do one thing and that all white people do or think one thing. I was just trying to give examples of how identity fucks with our heads and mindset.

        I hope you get wherever you are trying to go in life Leela =) I don’t think anyone with any amount of education is having an easy time these days. School is a scam, but that’s another story. =/

    • renegademama

      What Leela said. Thank you.

  • Cathryn

    Thank you. This is what I’ve been thirsting to hear.

  • Allison

    Thank you for this, Janelle. I’ve ended up about the same place as you, I think: heartbroken about this ugly racist culture I benefit from, and wondering what to do. How do I teach my little boys better? What can I do? You mentioned some actions you want to take; can I ask what they are?

  • Mandy

    Very, very well written. Thank you for sharing.

  • Nathalie

    Definitely the best piece I’ve read and I sincerely thank you My only question through all of it though, is where do I/we go from here to begin to effect change in the right direction, towards a positive outcome?

    • renegademama

      http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/09/non-racist-white-person/

      Thank you for reading.

      Personally, I write about white privilege. I call it out when I see it (or try). I teach my kids. I combat bullshit they learn in school. We talk about it all the time. When I teach English we read literature and essays from people of color and discuss these issues openly. And I’m now looking for social justice organizations to work with.

      I LISTEN to black friends and commentators, read black media, and try to internalize the really hard shit that makes me uncomfortable, sad, self-pitying, etc.

      It’s not much, but it’s something.

  • Nel

    I always thought a black comedy was one that was tuned toward a more cynical sense of humour, like Monty Python and Rowan Atkinson’s work. Maybe even humour that tackles socially taboo stuff, death, taxes, the contents of baby nappies…

  • Monica Taft

    Jeannette,
    You truly are a woman of grace and dignity, thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel.
    God bless

  • Sara Allen

    THANK YOU!!!!! I don’t know what else to say right now because I’m still shaking my head. Thank you for writing this.

  • Kateri Von Steal

    This was an interesting piece.
    Concise and well written.

    I agree with some points and on others – I’m not sure how I feel.

    But, I do know that you are very intelligent and well spoken. You know how to express your point of view, without putting down others. There needs to be more people like you covering and broadcasting the stories of today – – -with more people of your mindset, we may have a chance at hearing a whole story – for once.

  • christy

    Thank you. My kids will be reading this tonight and we will be talking about it for a long time to come. Thank you for articulating so much of what’s wrong with the mainstream view of racism.

  • Lisa Owen

    I just discovered your blog today and I am so glad that I did. White people (and some Black people, too) can’t see it – racism, priviledge, personal responsibility – because they are afraid of what it says about them. If they admit that they can see it and agree that it exists, then does it mean that they now have a responsibility to act on it? If they don’t see it are they now a flagrant biggot? When some Blacks seperate themselves from those of us that protest, are they selling out? This is hard stuff and progress is going to take hard work. By the way, every time I hear a White person say “What about White History Month?” (which happens a lot more often than you think) I want to punch them in the throat for being so completely ignorant. Thanks for sharing, this was beautifully written. I’ll be back often.

  • Brent

    I agree with what another fellow said. Worth reading more than once.

  • Jen

    thank you!!! What you are talking about us so important!!! You inspire me to get out of my comfort zone and do more to fight racism in myself and all around me.

  • MrsTDJ

    Fantastic share and I truly appreciate your candor and honesty. I intend to share this post with my social networks.

  • hadashi

    no, no, this has EVERYTHING to do with parenting! the whole post is honest, insightful, etc. but the one line “i’m using my voice to talk to my kids” is what grabbed me. i’m mixed race; my kid came out blonde and blue-eyed and will grow up being perceived as a white man, and if he turns out to be straight, will be playing life on the “lowest difficulty setting” (thanks, John Scalzi’s essay on white privilege). i wonder every day how to raise him to understand his difficulty setting and to be an ally to those playing at a harder level, and NOT wait til grad school (yeah, he’ll be privileged enough most likely to have that option) to find out the truth. most parents who talk about this stuff, i’ve found, have kids who will grow up to be perceived as a person of color, and the parents who should be doing the most talking are those of us with the white-looking kids.

    • renegademama

      You are SO RIGHT! After I clicked that as a category I realized how stupid that was and changed it. I was thinking about it as “Different from what I usually write about,” but that’s clearly not what it said. This is about parenting and life. And parenting and life are inherently political. It’s all fucking related. ALL OF IT.

      Thank you.

      Janelle

  • Devon

    Thank you, Janelle. Speak truth to power, mama.

  • Christella

    Amidst the 800 similar comments, all I have to say is “Fuck yeah!”

  • Jennifer

    Damn if you didn’t dig around in my head and write down a whole bunch of my personal revelations. It is like once the curtain is lifted back and you realize how you’ve lived and what advantages you have had, you are horrified. And then you wonder why other people can’t see it. It’s right there. Right in front of you. All you have to do is look at it.

    • Keira

      Damn if you didn’t just dig into MINE, Jennifer! I gotta LOL.

  • Hannah

    Very interesting piece. Can I ask what you studied at grad school??x

  • Cynthia

    Loved this piece so much! What would be so rad is if *white folks* joined with poc and got behind the effort to make Ethnic Studies classes a high school graduation requirement in every school district in the nation. It’s already happening in Los Angeles Unified and San Francisco Unified.

    Our kids mostly get it but they need the particulars. They need facts filled in. And they are so ready for something that will help them understand history so they get the future right.

    http://thewire.k12newsnetwork.com/2014/12/01/why-i-support-an-ethnic-studies-high-school-graduation-requirement-in-lausd-and-sfusd-and-beyond/

  • Mom101

    Absolutely outstanding piece. This is going to stay with me for a good long time.

    I actually found it because my mother shared it on Facebook, so it’s definitely reaching a lot of people from all different circles. Count me in as one of them echoing the grateful chorus of thank you’s here.

  • Karen from Chookooloonks

    BRILLIANTLY written. Thank you for this. 🙂

    K.

  • AJ Chestnut

    As a woman of color, I read your words, and like I have been doing for the past 3 months, I wept. I wept because I knew the disparity still existed, but I didn’t know how bad it was. Some of my friends, my high school classmates started showing their cards. And I realized the level of hatred they’d been suppressing. It was like going to sleep in a room full of lambs and waking up in a room full of snakes. I wept because I know that people like me only make up 14% of this country, and we are split down the middle blaming fault, and we need your help, because we are outnumbered, so outnumbered.

    Many of us think its somehow cowardly to ask for help. I’ve been called a coon, a nigger, a hoodrat, and more over the last few weeks simply because I think we need allies of all races to help us. So seeing your words…yes. Thank you. For all of us, thank you.

    • LaToya

      Agreed, AJ!

  • Keira

    Janelle, I just have to add to the pile of positive comments. This is the best thing I’ve read yet on white privilege, and I will definitely be following your forthright funnyass blog from here on out.

    I have a story. First, I gotta clarify that I too am a white woman. I live in an uber-white state, but in a very mixed burb of a major city. My nine-year-old goes to the local public school where 20% of the kids are white and 40% are ‘African American’. I use the single quotes here because some percentage of that percentage is really African African, and there’s likely a kinda arbitrary overlap with the 5% ‘mixed race’ category. Ohmygod, you would not believe the mixed race procreation that goes on around here. (BTW, i sincerely hope you all recognize that my exclamations of horror are sarcastic. Some people will think it’s serious. They might be the same people who think Steven Colbert is conservative.)

    Anyway, just last night in a somewhat unrelated conversation, my daughter says to me, “All that unfairness to black people was fixed back in the Martin Luther King time.” My jaw dropped. My kid goes to a “world cultures community school” with a pretty strong emphasis on black history and intercultural curriculum. And, wtf, 80% of her classmates are not-white! If today she is getting this message, what in hell is happening to the white kids growing up in whitey-white america? It blew my MIND!

    Clearly, we have a big job ahead of us, and we can’t stay passive if we really want things to be different for our children.

    So thanks. Your post really, truly hit the spot for me today!

  • Marybeth

    What I find interesting about reading through the comments is that I didn’t see anything that said, “When I talk to my black friends about this”, or “When I talk to my white friends about this”… I think part of the reason so many of us don’t understand the impact of race on each other is because we don’t talk to each other about it. I think a lot of well intentioned white people are afraid to say the wrong thing and I also think that a lot of well intentioned white people don’t even know a single black person well enough to feel comfortable to start a conversation. Our school system started a parents diversity group and came up with some horribly conceived name (which I can’t even remember now, but it was exclusionary in some way…) and of course there was the appropriate uproar about “You can’t call that THAT!” and soon the name was changed to something far more PC. Guess what? The group has 4 white people in it… It’s such a missed opportunity to bring people together. ALL THE PEOPLE decried the exclusionary name, but no one cares enough to actually go to the meetings…

    • Marybeth

      Sorry, just reread my own comment, there are 4 white people and about 15 other people of various other colors, not just 4 white people being all diverse. That would be silly… The point is, why don’t more white people go to things that are labeled “Diverse THING”???

    • Keira

      Marybeth, don’t feel too bad. If you read my comments, you’ll see that my white kid goes to a school with only 20% white kids. Yet the PTO meeting consist of about 10 regular attendees, all of whom are white, except for two Asian women and one super-fabulous Mexican woman who can attend only semi-regularly and still struggles with the language. All of the officers are white. To be fair, some of the white women have mixed race kids. But it’s still very frustrating.

      In the years I was PTO president (by default rather than choice, until I flat out refused to do it again because I sucked at it and was exhausted), we tried very hard to get more family participation and improve diversity. In talking with staff and previous officers, we heard several possible barriers — (1) High poverty rate translates to very little bandwidth for extra currics like PTO. It’s hard to do PTO when you are spending all your time and energy just trying to get by. (2) Language barriers. We’ve had translators come in, but there’s a variety of languages to cover. Even with just the Spanish translator, the hispanic parents are discouraged, I think, because they are always one step behind and removed from the conversations. It’s very hard to do. (3) Cultural differences. One example – we have quite a few Hmong families. i’m told that in their culture, you do NOT interfere with the teachers. It is considered very disrespectful. That’s pretty hard to overcome too.

      I’ve been at it with this school five years. It remains a very difficult challenge. But we keep trying. It’s too important to let it go. But yes, I totally understand the frustration.

      • Marybeth

        I think you missed my point (probably because I didn’t express it well)… In our town the Diversity group is well attended by non-white people, but not by white people… My point is that we’ll never understand each other if we are never in the same room together to engage. I think white people see the word Diversity and assume it’s not for them.

    • Momtothree

      I have to say, your comment brought something back to me. Talking to an African friend, she was half-jokingly recounting how last year she had been round to the house of a Texan woman who she had known at playschool – all our damn kids were there together at the same time. Except that these two women had lost touch, and so she shows up a few years later at this woman’s house, and there’s no doorbell. So she walks up the drive waving and smiling, saying hi. And this tiny white woman is like, on her doorstep, arms folded, looking decidedly unenthusiastic. And so my black friend is telling this story, saying “yeah, she was like, WHO is this black woman just walking up my drive?”. I was appalled, as I realized that had she been white – and this is her perception – she would have been received differently. I have never felt the same about the white American woman who before I might have called a friend. And you know what, time proved me right. She wasn’t worthy of my friendship …

  • Keira

    Well, my sarcastic exclamations of horror do not appear in the post. Silly me, I put them in pointy parentheses, which are read by your web browser as special coding (yes, my fellow geeks, I mean HTML). Duh. Sorry. What was left out are the following important remarks:

    “Yikes!” (public school)
    “Eek” (40% black)

    You get the idea.

  • MelWager

    Thank you for saying so clearly what I have been trying to explain, understand, relate, and live.

  • Abi Q

    Oh I seriously love this so much. You spoke everything I think and feel so well. Best article I’ve read on the subject so far. High fives and hugs for speaking out! xo

  • Dana

    I love your truth and candor. Well written.

  • Emily M.

    This gave me goosebumps. I have never commented before, but I feel I must.

    Thank you for saying plainly and bluntly what many refuse to hear. I am thankful for your voice.

  • Marie

    Thank you.

  • Px

    “What’s at stake, people? What’s at stake in accepting that racism exists?”

    A whole lot

    national-pride-building, official, sanitized, feel-good, tender-elementary-school-reading history, teaches that one of the strongest pillars of moral authority of the USA in the world is that it took care of those horrible, racist, disgusting Nazis, who were all about white supremacy and dominance. America saved the world! America IS the good guys! America IS NOT racist, unlike those Nazi pigs!

    Sadly, that’s not true. And acknowledging that, would make the whole structure of the USA as a moral authority on racism disappear. Suddenly, after World War II, all the racial issues at home in the USA (Native American genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, George Wallace, etc.) became tiny nuisances in comparison with the huge accomplishment: defeating those horrible racist guys, the Nazis. The USA has benefited enormously of that “moral accomplishment”, but acknowledging now, 60 years later, that the USA shares the same ideological essence (white supremacy) as those bad, racist guys, runs the risk of turning everything upside down. What will tender elementary-school minds read about to feel proud about their country? Will the whole paradigm of US history have to be rewritten to understand the defeating of the Nazis under a different light, now that it seems like white American mainstream society is not that color blind?

    So yes, there’s lots at stake. Basically a big chunk of what the US has used as moral authority in the world stage for the last 60 yrs. runs the risk of crumbling down in a huge cloud of ugly, confusing dust.

  • Harry Cross

    How about the fact that there are all sorts of “charts” relating to music in the US but there is no “white “chart. What would happen if someone said they wanted to create a white only music chart? I have not made my mind up about this issue so would be interested in the thoughts of visitors here.

  • Mark

    Can’t disagree with this more than I am at this moment. Professor Lee sounds like a very very bitter person who wanted to make sure that all white people were very very ashamed that they are white. Lets continue to coddle and make up excuses for the behavior of others and just explain it away as “Its really all our fault.”

    Racism works both ways.

  • Ruby colley

    I am sick of hearing about the poor black people. I was raised in a poor white home and was treated like poor white trash. I did not cry about how was treated, I went to school got a job and made it on my own. My wonderful white husband desert me and his daughter. Never paid a dime in child support and could not get any help in making him pay $150.00 a month. I worked and made it on my own as a single parent. Both of my children have done well. It had nothing to do with poor white girl. It had to do with pride and a good working elicits

    • Keira

      Sounds like you have had a very challenging time indeed, Ruby. I don’t think anybody here or in the black community would deny that. Kudos to you for powering through–that is very hard for a lot of people to muster. You certainly have a right to be very proud of how far you’ve come. I would ask that you understand that there are a great many black people with pride and a strong work ethic as well. Your hardships and strength aren’t diminished by others’ stories. Their experiences and challenges are simply different. There is no need to measure their legitimacy by your own hardships. Wouldn’t you so much rather other people believe you when you tell them about a problem you face? There are millions of Americans saying the same thing. It is not a conspiracy; conspiracies don’t work that way. And it’s a problem experienced regardless of education level, wealth, religious conviction and any other means by which we often judge people’s believability. What does it cost any of us to recognize and respect that there’s a problem, and to try to fix it?

    • LaToya

      Bless your heart, Ruby.

  • Tela

    yes. this. thank you.

  • Tina

    Hear, hear, mama. You know, shortly after the Michael Brown shooting (not getting into my feelings on that, that’s a whole other debate, and very heated) my jaw about hit the floor when Megan Fox on Fox News sat there and schooled Bill O’Reilly on how white privilege is still alive and well – the woman who last year declared in more than one interview that Santa Claus is white. But it’s true. I don’t get pulled over, or looked at suspiciously because of my skin color. Yes, I was poor ($$ wise), or at least I considered myself that way growing up, but that didn’t influence my education (turns out, many years we were dirt poor, until I was about in 6th grade, when my Dad finally got a steady job that he held until retirement two years ago, but prior to that, yeah, dirt poor, after that, just mountains of debt – I remember my parents cutting up all their credit cards but one for emergencies; by the time my sister hit college, and my brother, the household income was high enough that they only financial aid they qualified for was student loans, no grants). When I started school, I lived at home, didn’t apply for financial aid (community college, previous experience with my brother and sister already told me I wouldn’t get any grants, and I had savings set up by my decently set grandmother that more than covered two years of community college. I got pregnant, took a year off school after I got pregnant and married – and luckily we had family to move in with – and no one told me that as a young mother I couldn’t go back to school to better myself, and no one EXPECTED me to fail in that endeavor because I had a child at home – although one instructor told me after I got pregnant with my second that she was “disappointed in me”, but I wasn’t looking to go to law school anymore, I just wanted to get qualified to get a job to put food on the table. When I had difficulty finding a job, it was my inexperience that limited me, not the color of my skin. I’ve actually had MORE discrimination since I became disabled than I experienced ever during that time – a time where I was ripe for discrimination (after all, I had one interview – at a law firm of all places, where the attorney interviewing me should have known it was illegal – flat out asked me if I was done having kids because he didn’t want to have to deal with his new secretary going out on maternity leave, like his previous one did twice; that and he expected me to wear a skirt every day, no slacks, because, you know, I’m a woman; but due to the illegal line of questioning, I declined to take that job offer). I get things now like, “What do you mean, you’re on disability, you’re only 40 (or, going back to the date I applied, 34 and up). I look at you and you look fine!” Grrr.
    So no, I’ve never had the experience of being looked down on because of the color of my skin, not getting a job, etc. The only “discrimination” I’ve faced (other than a couple jobs I didn’t get because I was HUGELY pregnant that literally said, “call us back after you’ve had the baby”) has been from other people when they hear I’m disabled, and all the variations that can take, and well, getting a loan because my income is disability and thus, non-garnishable.

  • Denae

    Thank you Janelle. People need to hear this.

  • Mega

    Shit. I’m white, too. Thank you for articulating white privilege. I am married to a black African and we live in Asia. Although our kids are small, I worry a lot about how they will fare when we return to the US in the summers and how will they be treated if they attend university in the US. It frightens me.

  • LaToya

    This post was absolutely perfect. You are one fabulous writer and perfectly imperfect person. I am a fan. 🙂

  • Kristin

    This is what I’ve been trying to get across again and again: “Does it mean my grandmother’s accomplishments are less badass? Nope. Does it mean I do not “deserve” success? Nope. Does it mean that I am a bad person? Nope.”

    Thank you for lending another perspective. More people need to speak out and admit being human — warts and all — so we can begin to honestly move forward instead of just give lip service.

  • Jerrie Sanders

    As an African American woman, I really enjoyed reading this writing piece. It was informative and insightful. I enjoyed reading about your experiences too.

  • EW

    I’ve been a reader of yours for a long time and never commented. This is perfect. Thank you for taking the time to write this, it’s so necessary.

  • Margery Bloom

    Just shared this with my 12th grade students today. You eloquently stated how I feel about the issue of race and history. I bleeped the curse words (but the piece was projected on a board, so they saw them), and told them to understand that outside of class, I would have used every single one too 🙂

    Everyone’s history matters in my classroom. I teach a course on genocide, because people don’t know about the 50 or so we’ve had since the Holocaust. This is timely, and relevant, and I shared it on FB so that my nonstudents could GET IT.

  • Susan Darden Kautz

    Best description of life as a white person I’ve ever read. I clearly recall the “nigger lover” comments directed at me when out with a black date. It was over 30 years ago and it stuck with me. Thank you for your thought provoking, honest post. Will be shared with all I know.

  • Happy

    Tim Wise is not white.

  • Lainey Berton

    You are nothing short of amazing. What a great piece. I honestly don’t understand how anyone can read this and still not get it. It’s fear, really. Thank you for your courage!

  • Katie

    Thank you for writing this. I feel like my eyes are plastered wide open and I can see things far clearer. I read this to my husband, and we had one of the best, enlightened conversations we have had in a long time. This will change the way we raise our daughter.

    Keep writing. You are an inspiration to moms and dads.

  • Butch

    Thank you for writing this. There are still so many people who don’t understand the Afro American culture. Having spent time in foreign countries, it doesn’t appear that they are racist against people of color, even though there are different shades of color in those countires and they are all treated the same. Why is it still that way in the US, the most powerful country in the world!!!!

  • Adri

    Well written piece and I certainly don’t disagree. That said, it’s interesting how the focus seems to be on black people and white people. Last I checked, people of every colour are both discriminated against and racist themselves. Yet somehow it always turns into a discussion on white privilege. Look, obviously it exists; anyone with common sense knows this. But ignoring the equally disgusting racism displayed by Afro Americans, Asians, First Nations, etc isn’t really doing a whole lot to address the very real problem of racism in North America.
    I had the shit kicked out of me for being white (on the outside; I’m 1/4 Comanche) by a bunch of First Nations girls. Yes, for being white. That was the extent of my crime.
    I’ve seen countless displays of bigotry directed at Jews by Afro Americans. I’ve seen examples of this garbage in every single culture I’ve encountered.
    Maybe instead of making it endlessly about white privilege we could put more thought into the underlying problem, and how to address it.

    • Butch

      People need to get along no matter what color they are. That said, white people, (at least in areas of mostly white populations) seem to always think they are right and more important than any other cultures. If that isn’t the case, then why did a white Governor of a midwestern state make racist comments among his staff about Afro Americans, in a document that the couts unsealed!

  • Nicole

    So glad to have stumbled upon this tonight and appreciative of you taking the time to commit these thoughts and feelings to the inter webs. I consider myself a compassionate, curious, educated, cultured and kind human. My truck was broken into, valuables stolen. The image that came to mind immediately was the image of two young black men of ‘urban’ dress. I didn’t realize that’s where my mind went on auto pilot and when the storm settled and I realized it….. So fucking ashamed. I’ve been on a path to understand it ever since and this article was very insightful. Thank you. And fuck the followers you may loose because of it.

  • Rachael Burgess

    My favorite quote from this, “Is it really that hard to comprehend that something can exist EVEN THOUGH YOU DON’T PERSONALLY SEE IT?”

    Can be applied way beyond racism too. We all have different experiences and should never assume someone is the same as us or judge them by our life experience.

  • Elena

    The myriad supporters/commenters on the piece is further testament to the authors white privilege. A well stated piece none-the-less.

  • Sal

    There is so much white guilt stink here I can’t even fathom. Wow.

    Please go tell me how every black person, every black actor, everyone, fights racism actively 24/7. Please explain. I’d love to hear more of your white-guilted ramblings.

    People have shit to deal with. Everyone. Just because one can’t actively do something they’re not part of the problem. Would you go to a depressed person and yell at them they’re terrible people for not actively fighting racism instead of getting themselves treated?

  • Kathryn

    I could have written this. Seriously. Actually I’m working on a piece about my adopted, biracial son and my life growing up in the white south and my fears for him as he grows. Thanks for your courage. Keep it up.

  • Camille

    Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. The humility and clarity of thought you express in this piece are so refreshing, so inspiring. You are a person I wish I could have as a friend.

  • David

    First, I agree that there’s still racism in America and that “American history” is often read from a very narrow racial view. I agree that it would be better if African American appearance was removed as a potential signifier of wealth. I think we need to be careful how we try to do it, though.

    “Data shows racial disparities”

    Racial disparities are not the same as racism. This is one bait-and-switch which regularly frustrates me. Racism is discrimination based on race. Racial disparities are correlates. You understand the difference between demonstrating correlation and causation, right? Changing a person’s appearance but keeping other factors the same wouldn’t necessarily change the outcome of situations where race is correlated to wealth, but not causal in the present. The data you cite doesn’t demonstrate the conclusion you’re going for.

    “A whole community of people are saying this exists.”

    Whole communities say lots of things. There are very few groups in America who don’t contain a segment that believes that they’re persecuted in some way. Which is why the appeal to popular opinion gets disregarded.

    “I don’t understand it. What’s at stake, people? What’s at stake in accepting that racism exists? Or even entertaining the thought? Are people really so stupid they can’t fathom that other people might be having a different experience than they are? Is it really that hard to comprehend that something can exist EVEN THOUGH YOU DON’T PERSONALLY SEE IT? … and the insidious defense of systematic unequal distribution of resources”

    Lets say that you have two groups of people. One, due to centuries of racism, has less wealth. Lets say that you magically eliminate all racial hatred and allow people to act in their own best interests.
    Who will the banks lend to? They will prefer to lend to the wealthier individual, who has the personal resources to pay back the loan and is less likely to default. Lets say that you then do what many people do and blame the banks for acting in their own self interest. You call them racist and accuse them of redlining. You try to fix the problem by forcing them to “be more fair” using various carrots and sticks. What happens? You get a lot of harmful “predatory” loans to minorities and then you get the collapse of the banking industry. It’s the fact that ‘fixes’ to racism so often involve these disastrous government mandated outcomes that makes at least a few people wary.

    Yes, I’m familiar with Graham-Leach-Bliley, Glass-Steagall, the Clinton-Era CRA reforms etc. The Clinton era CRA reforms, in particular, don’t get the criticism that they deserve. Clinton was basically shouted down by his own party when he suggested that the CRA changes contributed to the collapse of the mortgage industry. Defenses of those reforms are consistently riddled with misdirection, like claiming that critics are attacking the Carter Era changes which is so wrong as to seem deliberately dishonest. The financial crash was complex and there’s not a single cause, but attempts to prevent racism through various measures, including the forced adoption of Desktop Underwriter by the financial industry and tremendously vague regulations promoting loans to minorities were significant contributors.

    It is, of course, not honest to say “attempts to fight disparate racial outcomes through centralized government programs have often been disastrous, therefore racism does not exist.”

    But that is the sort of appeal-to-consequences thinking that I believe many people engage in.

    Wealth isn’t distributed, however. It’s created. You asked what’s at stake. If it wasn’t just a rhetorical question, hopefully this provides some answer.

    “If they’re not human like you. ”

    If someone makes the false claim that racism doesn’t exist in America and you disagree does that mean you view the people saying that racism doesn’t exist as not human? I doubt it.

    “You can only ignore them if they’re liars. If they’re just looking for a handout.”

    Most people are looking for a handout. Most politiciayns are willing to provide it in exchange for votes or campaign contributions. Most of people’s political views, even when couched in altruistic language, are self serving. There are racists in America. But you’re indulging in the fallacy of the excluded middle here. Either people share our worldview or they are racists? You really can’t see any other possibilities? At all?

    “yes, America has colonies but we call them “territories””

    What McKinley did to the Philippines was abominable, but we did essentially offer them statehood and voluntarily ceded them their freedom. America wasn’t as bad of a colonial power as many nations and worked more to integrate territories into the nation, proper, rather than viewing them primarily as sources of raw materials.

  • ramendik

    I have never been to the USA (living in Ireland) and can’t comment on any racial or other internal issues there. I would, however, appreciate clarification on one point in your text.

    “And then, a few months later, when my boyfriend’s roommate took me aside and asked why I have to “take a good black man who was in college,” when so many black men were incarcerated. I concluded she was crazy. And mean.”

    Are you now saying this conclusion was wrong and she was right? Are you now saying white women should not “take” “good black men”?

  • sdfsdf

    “when my boyfriend’s roommate took me aside and asked why I have to “take a good black man who was in college,” when so many black men were incarcerated. I concluded she was crazy. And mean. / She hurt my feelings. Poor Janelle.”

    You know what, your ex-boyfriend was not actually the property of his roommate, and as an adult, he had the right to chose whom to go out with; a right the civil rights movement had to fight for, because black men going out with white women used to be punished by death not so long ago. He has this hard-won freedom, and the roomate was indeed rude and entitled. What’s next, bisexual people should break up with their other-gendered partners, because the gay community needs them more (they do have a smaller dating pool, after all)? There is a crucially important moral distinction between statistics and individual cases, and it alarms me that you are not seeing it.

    • renegademama

      Do not be “alarmed.” I understand the distinction and of course she was rude and he had every right to date whoever the hell he pleased. My point was that I STOPPED at that analysis alone, without looking further, without asking myself WHY she might have felt compelled to say something (for example, the disproportionate number of black men incarcerated).

      • SDFSDF

        ok, I’m glad to hear this.

        It’s still not clear to me why you phrased it like you did in the piece. You made fun of your past self for being hurt by a hurtful remark – she wasn’t crazy, but she was mean… but you have put it as if feeling bad because of her was a moral failing from your part.

        If past-you was right, then she did not deserve to be made fun of.

        It sounds a bit like as if a non-racist person should internalize whatever remark comes her way, and judging something someone says as “mean” were always wrong. But putting people on a pedestal is not the same as seeing their whole humanity – I, for one, as someone from a second-world country, would prefer an american who takes my opinions seriously and debates me when we contradict, to one that responds “sure, sweetie, of course you are right” to whatever increasingly ridiculous accusation I throw her way, just for beign priviledged by being born in a richer and more powerful country.

        In every group, you find a lot of opinions (in that household alone, your boyfriend apparently thought that going out with you was right and she, that it was not), and we must use our own judgement – “listen to peole from the group!” is a nice heuristic, but it doesn’t work as a strict rule when the group isn’t a hivemind and has different opinions inside it… so we should listen to many voices, and then make up our own position. Prioritizing the meanest voices just because they hurt the most is not the way clear thinking works, but it is something I sometimes see as expected in activist circles. I guess it goes back, culturally, to christianity’s view on chosen suffering being good – that’s how Jesus saved us, after all.

  • Cathie

    I disagree with most of this. I don’t ask anyone to watch my stuff, no matter the color, because I don’t trust people as a whole.

    I am disabled with a disabled child. I get nothing extra for being white.

    I was born and raised in the ghetto. My mom moved us out after many years of us living there. Yes, it was a ghetto, drugs, guns and dead bodies. Being white had nothing to do with her ability to move us into a tiny one bedroom apartment in a better part of town. She wanted us in a safer area and made it happen.

    I’ve known many people from the ghetto who chose to have babies as teenagers, drop out of school and not better thenselves. I’ve known others that didn’t have babies, stayed in school and went to college and have incredible careers. You’d be amazed how many are black, not white, who chose the better option.

    I am not entitled. A thug is a thug by how they dress, no matter the color. I’m tired of people trying to make me feel bad for being white or responsible for the situations others put themselves in or refuse to get themselves out of. I will not be a whipping boy any longer.

    • Mandy

      Agree with you 100% Cathie, thank you. Couldn’t have said this better myself, but I wanted to give kudos to you

  • emm

    This is an old post, but a good one. As a non-American, I’m always amazed at how white-washed indigenous American history is. Given that your black peoples histories are now prominent, how about a hand up to your nations first peoples? Huge wealth of wisdom in exploring that honestly, human nature being what it was, maybe still is and hopefully in future won’t be anymore.

  • If by yes

    Yes yes yes! Thank you for saying this. I can’t believe the white fragility I see whenever I post something about race. How fellow white people get so defensive about being implied “racist” when really I just want to acknowledge the privilege that we benefit from. I don’t need to feel guilty about it. I don’t need to feel racist because of it. It isn’t my fault. But if I refuse to acknowledge it, if I try to claim that my life is harder or just as hard than it would be if I were not white, THEN I am not just accidentally benefitting from the status quo but actively upholding it. And I refuse to do that.

    I am white. I am born into a society in which my race is considered the default setting. This is not my fault and I don’t feel guilty about it but I do acknowledge it as unfair and I believe that it needs to be fixed.

  • SuburbanMom

    My first thought, as to my “name” was notadick. Playing off of your comment policy. I thought it was funny, but I didn’t want the distraction.

    I’ve enjoyed your posts for a long time. This one…I disagree with. Hear me out…

    I’m all for, the days that honor deserving people. Or months that honor those, stricken with cancer or disease…yup. I’m in!

    Where I disagree with your post is, a month devoted to a skin color, or an ethnic group. Just as, discrimination against the same groups, is wrong. In 2015, I wonder how many would be surprised while researching their lineage. It’s America, we are a mixed bag.

    Remember the past, learn from it, but don’t dwell on it. Move forward. Respect for all, should have a month.

    Regardless of skin color or ethnicity or financial means, everyone has a story. Everyone has a history.

  • tracy

    thanks for some books to put on my amazon list to educate myself.

  • Roshni

    Sadly, even I didn’t think about all this, even though I am colored.

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from Mom 2.0 Summit Loves: Poutine Latkes, - Mom 2.0 Summit | April 29 - May 1, 2015 Scottsdale, AZ
    Friday, 12 December, 2014

    […] How I Discovered I Am White at Renegade Mothering […]

  • Trackback from Link Love (2015-01-10) | Becky's Kaleidoscope
    Saturday, 10 January, 2015

    […] “Let’s think about this for a moment. A whole community of people are saying this exists. Data shows racial disparities in economic, education, justice, and healthcare systems. Basically, ALL OVER THE PLACE. Unarmed black boys and men are killed without recourse. Repeatedly. The comment sections of these crimes are riddled with assholes shouting “Good. One less loser.” Still people claim “Racism doesn’t exist.” But here’s the thing: The only way you can discount the words, lives, efforts and voices of hundreds of thousands of people is THROUGH THE RACISM YOU CLAIM DOESN’T EXIST. You can only ignore them if they’re aren’t worth hearing. You can only ignore them if they’re liars. If they’re just looking for a handout. If they’re not human like you. You can only ignore them by using the very narratives you claim aren’t happening. And let’s be honest, we can only ignore them because it’s easy, because we’ll never have to walk a day in their shoes, and it’s just so much more pleasant to turn away, look away, focus back on our lives. But the sand is getting skimpy and our heads are showing. At this point, if we’re not part of the solution we’re part of the problem.” How I discovered I am white – Renegade Mothering […]

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