Results for how I learned I was white

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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what I learned this week…new neighbors, February bites.

by renegademama

 

  1. We got new neighbors. I’m going to tell you about it by quoting myself on Facebook: “I wish I could find the words to adequately express my delight upon learning that an enormous crowd of loud not-quite-teens-anymore moved next door to us. Right now I am listening to squealing females, cheesy white-people-drunk music, and occasional announcements such as “that’s my song!” or “pass the lighter.” If I had a shotgun y’all might not see me for awhile.”
  2. Fyi, quoting yourself feels oddly narcissistic.
  3. Anyway I ended up calling the cops on them, which was weird for me, since I distinctly remember being the kid who got the cops called on them, and hating it. I wonder if I would have kept doing it back then if I knew how much we were annoying the neighbors. Yes. Yes I would have.
  4. It has been eerily beautiful here – sunny and like 65 degrees. Amazing. I want to be concerned about the lack of rain but I’m too busy enjoying the sunshine. Kinduva vicious cycle.
  5. My husband works so much (usually 6, sometimes 7 days a week) that sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t just downgrade our life to ridiculously minimal levels so we actually, oh I don’t know, LIVE. This grind just kills me sometimes. This somewhat-poor-person grind. This working and struggling. And then I hear things like Beyonce renting out an entire floor of a hospital for like a million dollars and redecorating it and I want to vomit at the self-importance of some people – the excess. I don’t know why, but something about that just makes me ill. I hear that her security wasn’t letting parents visit their babies in the NICU. Of course I read that in the news so it probably isn’t true. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if it were.
  6. I wish Pinterest would give me back my life.
  7. And to the scoffers…check it out: I didn’t think I’d get roped in – actually had high hopes of the opposite. But then I started doing it and realized it’s strangely fun. GREAT. Another online distraction from reality. Whee.
  8. Georgia got sick again last week, so if you’re catching a bit of negativity in my tone, it’s from exhaustion and a little frustration. I’m so tired. I’m tired of snot, mostly. It’s just always there in great quantities and though I’ll save you the details, it somehow gets ALL OVER HER which means it’s ALL OVER ME. I don’t love it.
  9. February is often a weird month for me. If there’s a “dark” month for me, it’s this one. I tend to feel a little down and sort of disillusioned and lost. And then it always passes in March. Always. Unless it comes back, which it occasionally does in intervals associated with PMS – which kind of makes it not count, right?
  10. So, in super boring news, the widget on the left “Google Friend Connect” is going away March 1. Not by my choice. Google is eliminating it for people who don’t use their blogging program. Pricks. So if you follow via GFC, please choose another follow method (or leave me, but at least say “Goodbye, it’s not you. It’ me” before you go).

Valentine’s Day is coming up. We’re gonna have some fun with that.

Have a great week, you guys.

6 Comments | Posted in weeks of mayhem | February 12, 2012

What I learned this week…you don’t want to know. But I’m going to tell you anyway.

by renegademama

 

  1. The title of this post has to do with the fact that my dog pooped in the back of our Expedition. Since he knew it was wrong, he attempted to cover it up…WITH THE ERGO BABY CARRIER, resulting in dog crap smeared all over the thing. I considered throwing it away. But I didn’t, because we’re too poor for that.
  2. I also considered throwing the dog away. But I didn’t, because that may upset PETA.
  3. As you can see, I’ve been making solid decisions lately.
  4. There is so much poop in my life. It’s just not right.
  5. I have been eating very limited sugar and pretty much only complex carbs (whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, etc.) and exercising 4 days/week for the last two weeks, and I gotta say, I feel so much better (mentally and physically) but I also feel really freaking weird. Holy cravings. Guess I was more addicted to sugar and white flour than formally thought. I’ve lost 10 pounds. I have like 900 more to go.
  6. Yesterday I saw a gentleman wearing sweatpants and white fuzzy dog slippers, in public. That was probably the high point of my week.
  7. Well that, and the comment Mac made when he walked into our bedroom after I cleaned it. He looked around and said “What happened here?” with this sort of shocked, slightly frightened look on his face – evidently he’s not used to things in that condition. He was visibly startled.
  8. Have I told you that Rocket still says “dust” instead of “just”? Don’t tell anybody, but I hope he does it forever. Well maybe not FOREVER. But definitely 10 more years.
  9. The upcoming week is my last week before school starts again. Please help me contain my enthusiasm.
  10. This morning, Georgia fell off a chair and cut the heck out of her lower lip. There was blood everywhere. It was horrible. She cried and whimpered then said “milk” and we nursed and I was so happy I could give her that comfort. She nuzzled in close and nursed with all her might, the way they do when they just need mama. I put a blanket over her and we rocked until she fell asleep and as she took those deep breaths after crying and nursed gently and closed her eyes in peace, I thought about how women throughout the ages have been doing that same thing – in the face of war or poverty or tragedy – in the face of all problems, we bring our babies close and we are both comforted for that moment. Just the two of us. Nothing else matters. All of it fades away through this simple act of nourishing and cradling a little child, who needs her mama. When all else fails, there is that.

And I was grateful.

Have a lovely week.

9 Comments | Posted in weeks of mayhem | January 15, 2012

what I learned this week…this crap should be illegal.

by renegademama

 

  1. There is so much going on in my life right now I can hardly breathe. I think I may be losing my mind for real, though I’m not sure.
  2. Here are the things I’m facing this month. In August. Just this month (yes, I feel a little sorry for myself): Wrapping up an 8-year job/ Beginning grad school/ Ava starting a new school/ Beginning to homeschool Rocket/ First day with a new nanny for the baby (holy fuck that’s a big one)/ Going on a small but big-enough-to-require-planning vacation at the end of the month/Georgia’s 1st birthday celebration/ Planning Rocket’s 6th birthday party, which occurs the first part of September…
  3. The only of the above-listed items I’ve completed is Georgia’s birthday party, which was a small, family-only affair (of about 12 people)…in which I for some god-forsaken reason decided to cook homemade carnitas, refried beans and tortillas ALL FROM SCRATCH – by myself, for the party. It was lovely but I swear I almost lost it due to the stress. I was flipping, delirious. Still am.
  4. Georgia likes white sugar. She tasted it for the first time at her party. We cut her a little piece of cake and held it out in front of her…after she took a bite, she got this surprised look on her face and did a complete face-plant into it. As if her hands were just gonna take Way.Too.Long. It was beyond perfect.
  5. It was a great party. It was at my mom’s house, and my brother and sister-in-law and niece & nephew came and my grandparents and my dad and stepmom and my in-laws – all of them came – and we surrounded the little Georgia with big crazy ass family arms.
  6. And then we fell silent into a pork-fat coma.
  7. Nature and I need to have a little talk. When we do, it’s going to go something like this: “Look, bitch, if you’re gonna give me pimples like when I was 16, you better hook me up with my 16-year-old body, too. You can’t pick and choose like that, yo.”
  8. I guess I’m that stressed – I’m returning to having pubescent skin issues.
  9. I’m afraid I’m going to lose friends this month since I most likely won’t be returning many phone calls, reading blogs, texting, Skyping, visiting in person (do people still do that?), emailing, Facebook stalking, Twittering, standing in front lawns peeping into windows, or any other variation of enjoyable social activities.
  10. Please don’t desert me, people. I’ll resurface one of these days. Well in a month, actually. Seriously, though, months like this one should be illegal.

Cheers, all.

double-fistin' it, wondering "Mama, why the hell did you keep this from me for so long?"

lovely birthday girl, post cake face-plant

5 Comments | Posted in weeks of mayhem | August 7, 2011

What I learned this week…my 9-year-old is smarter than me. My son can focus.

by renegademama

 

  1. When my brother and I were young we used to say we would buy houses right next to each other, so we never had to be apart and our kids could grow up together. He has lived in Virginia for the past 14 years and last week, he moved back home. I’ve been trying to figure out why everybody is just going on like nothin’s happened, like my big brother didn’t just come home…didn’t just give my kids their cousins…and make our family whole…didn’t just make a childhood wish a bit more true. It’s like freaking Christmas. Only hotter. And longer-lasting. And less tree-oriented. Right. So not really like Christmas at all, except that it involves a BIG BIG GIFT.
  2. My husband thinks my son’s fart jokes are funny. Like for real funny. Not like “courtesy laugh” funny, but real, deep laughter funny. I’m not sure what to think about that.
  3. The other day at a clothing store, my 9-year-old daughter held up a pair of shoes and said “mama! You wore a pair just like these to Julie’s pool party that one time, only yours were white with a blue stone on them.” Check it out: SHE WAS FOUR WHEN THAT HAPPENED. I have not even owned those shoes in years. She either has a photographic memory or she’s kept a secret written record of every single minute detail of her life, including, evidently, my shoe wear.
  4. I’m pretty sure#2 is an indicator that I am totally and completely fucked, since I will not be able to lie to my daughter about her childhood experience being more sound than she remembers.
  5. I don’t love pissing people off. (Yes, I know that’s surprising considering the contents of this blog. But the people I piss off on this blog are mostly strangers. And who gives a rat’s ass about strangers?). Anyhoo, what I don’t love even more than pissing people off is pissing people off without even trying. You know, without knowing. Like I’m cruising along thinking it’s all good in the neighborhood and suddenly I learn I’ve totally let somebody down or offended them or been caught being an asshat. And while I want to just say “ah screw ‘em” and move on, the truth is if I look long and hard at myself I can almost always see where I failed. Where I was self-centered. Where I could have done better. And that’s kinda rough, ya know? I mean it’s so much more fun just blaming others. Problem is, when the same problems keep occurring one must ask oneself, um, what’s the common denominator here? Oh right. Me.
  6. Damnit.
  7. In other news, I accidentally burned myself 3 times on 2 separate occasions in almost the same spot on my forearm. I look like one of those emo-kids who injure themselves on purpose as a statement against the mistreatment of angry middle-class teenagers with side-swept black hair.
  8. I have entered a wild, passionate love affair with Freecycle. Mac’s alright with it though, which is good, because this lover’s here to stay. What’s that line again…? “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds…”?
  9. We went to the NASCAR qualifying events on Friday (got four free tickets on FREECYCLE yo). I was geared up for some prime mullet-viewing, but must admit I was somewhat disappointed – only saw one of real quality. Probably would have fared better in Tennessee.
  10. I believe my favorite NASCAR feature (other than watching my son sit riveted the entire time, not saying a word, watching every single race car pass by with unceasing wonder and awe, renewing my faith that he can in fact focus, when he wants to) was the fact that everybody had these plastic things hanging from their necks with their pit passes, tickets, etc. inside them, and apparently those plastic things are called “credential holders.” I LOVE THAT ON SO MANY LEVELS I don’t know where to begin.
  11. Okay, 3rd favorite feature was a comment made by the smarty pants 9-year-old regarding all the people wearing “racing” jackets with tons of patches on them, of products and brands (racing sponsors)…“Why do people wear those? They’re just walking advertisements! What? Do they think we think they’re actual racers because they’re wearing the jacket?…Like we’re going to see them and say to ourselves ‘Oh look! He must be a race car driver! He has the jacket!'”
  12. THAT KID is going to piss some people off.
  13. And when it happens, I’m going to claim she had a sound childhood and I taught her nothing but patience, tolerance, and deep spiritual introspection.
  14. And she will tell them I’m a goddamned liar.

Have a good week folks!

he didn't move.

9 Comments | Posted in weeks of mayhem | June 26, 2011