Throughout these article entries, I planned originally to reflect on my white privilege. However, while I tried doing that, I realized that I found a lot more racism than I expected in my heart, so instead of simply writing about how privileged I have been in my life, I have ended up confessing my racist thoughts and tendencies.
I am not in the best place to educate people about this. However, I want to provide reflections on my privilege and racism and in turn, research why I may do, say or think in these ways. In doing so, I hope to open a dialogue, especially with those who are from America or may live in a similar society. Because not everyone from Anglo-American University is from the United States, I also want to display what racism in America is like through my thoughts and actions.
These reflections are originally inspired by White Like Me, a memoir written by Tim Wise.
I am a white, middle-class young woman who grew up in the United States. I can be seen as the epitome of white privilege. I am guilty of saying “I don’t see color” and many other microaggressions Black people and other racial minorities hear every day.
Here, I want to digest a microaggression I have a hard time with: “I am not racist because I have a Black family member or am friends with a Black person.” This is tokenism. I did not know what that was at the time, but I am guilty of this; I specifically told myself that I couldn’t be racist because I have two Black cousins.
About two years ago, I started becoming aware of my privilege, or more accurately, I became aware that most of my friends at my community college were less privileged than me. This struck me with shame, in a weird way. I did not want to be labeled as the “privileged” white girl. I remember one day, we needed to go somewhere with wifi to complete a test, and when they suggested we all go to my house, which was the closest to where we were, I made an excuse because I did not want them to know how big of a house I had.
What scared me the most was the fact that I had very few Black friends besides two families from church and a few family friends. This is where the tokenization of my cousins comes in.
I did not see it this way, but I used them as a means to an end, the end being proof that I was not just a privileged white person.
At the beginning of some days, I planned out how to start talking about my cousins, especially the fact that we had been taking care of them for months. When I did, I would talk about how adorable they were, so much that I had to show them a picture of them, demonstrating to the friend that they were not white. I will tell you, my cousins are the most adorable girls in the world, and I should be showing pictures of them to my friends because I am proud of who they are. However, the motive behind it was not pure, and the pride I should have felt for how strong those girls were was overtaken by the pride I felt in possessing black family members like they were an accessory I could flaunt.
I remember imagining the surprise in a friend’s face when the assumption that the cousins I talked about were white was proven incorrect, and I reveled in the thought. Instead of trying to reflect on my privilege, I focused on redirecting my “privileged” label and used my cousins as a tool to increase my status amongst my friends.
Those two girls are positively adored by me and my family, and I would never say differently, but especially recently, I have heard family members pointing to the fact that they could not be racist because they love them very much. In addition to using faulty logic to prove that we aren’t racist, we fall into the trap of using them as a tool to uphold a “non-racist” status instead of actually addressing the racism that will affect my cousins.
Colorblindness is white ignorance
I mentioned in a previous entry that I have said “I don’t see color” and I want to address the usage of colorblindness in the next three entries. In this entry, I want to discuss how much privilege someone like me must have to be able to say “I don’t see color.”
I used to train to be a ballet dancer. There are many problems in the ballet world, including misogyny and body shaming, and I have friends working on the inside trying to change these things. However, one of the issues I never noticed, because it never affected me, was racism.
In my years in pre-professional and professional training, there were few Black dancers at my ballet school. When I was ten years old, one of my friends (for the sake of privacy, I will call her Tera) drew a picture of a Black girl in our class, whom I will call Sadie. When Sadie found the photo, she began to cry. Many of the girls flew immediately to comfort her and attempted to ostracize Tera.
The picture had huge eyes and a mustache. Tera was distressed and claimed that she did not draw the mustache, which hurt Sadie the most. I believed Tera, and I tried to support her as the others angrily brushed her off.
I do not know if Tera meant to be malicious or not, but she decided to draw a picture of our only Black classmate. This may have only been because Sadie was different. The mustache might have been someone who knew Sadie and meant to do it, or it may have been a random kid who simply thought drawing it would be funny. Nonetheless, I want to emphasize that I only understood this event from a naive, and frankly, white and colorblind perspective.
Children, naturally, do not have an in-depth understanding of problems, and I should not condemn 10-year-old me for not being extra sensitive to Sadie. Neither should I have chosen to gang up on Tera with everyone else, for that would have hindered her from seeking forgiveness. I want to point out that from my white perspective, I couldn’t fathom that Sadie probably felt different and that this drawing may have solidified her feeling of exclusion. I wasn’t able to see that maybe she experienced microaggressions inside and outside the classroom. I was not even able to comprehend that she might have been targeted for her skin color.
Yet, often children of color typically learn about this early in life the hard way. According to a study in 2011, Black children in Alabama were more aware of race and racism than White children. Although I can’t say I knew Sadie very well, I cannot say that she lived a life without experiencing racism. The drawing could very well have not been made out of racism, but I was colorblind because of my privilege, and I could not have imagined that she could have been targeted because of her skin tone.
Quite often, white and privileged people (like me) don’t know that they are participating in a racially structured society where whiteness is at the top, and we have the privilege to be able to go on without thinking about it. We have let the problem persist for the sake of comfort, safety, and maintaining the status quo. The way the news media represents the protests and how many people are disaffected by them is discouraging, but hopefully, the protests engender a significant change to this mentality.