Thursday, December 01, 2005

A lesson on Privilege.

For Blog Against Racism Day, I was gonna write something on interracial relationships and how they help society begin to cross the racial barrier but I'm not happy with it so I'm cheating and bumped this older post up.

I have been thinking about typing up a post on white privilege when I clicked over to Pinko Feminist Hellcat and read a excerpt from sydney's post.

Here's a little taste:

Seriously, everything in America- hell in the world- is the way white people say it should be. No one else gets a say as to how their culture/race is perceived in this world. And this angers me. It creates in me a seething rage that sometimes comes close to pure, unadulterated hate. And when it gets there, I've got to lock it down and try to channel it into something productive, like activism work or education. Everyday, I encounter some shit that makes me think in my head, "oh these white folks just have no fucking clue do they!?" Sometimes, I brush it off because it's simply not worth it. The majority of the time I try to educate the fool in question, forcing an expression of calm on my face as I keep my hostility in check. And then there are those rare moments when I just go off because something has been said or done that simply cannot be solved by a lesson.
And I agree with her: sometimes things cannot be solved with a simple "lesson." There are always going to be people so ignorant they won't get it no matter what you do or say to them. Then there will be people who say they get it, but then continue on their merry path through an ignorant life. But then there are certain people who do get it and try hard to "get it" while they remind others around them.

My ex-husband is good at thinking everyone is out to "get the brown man." Many times, though, he wasn't making it up. He's 1Filipinopino but loSpanishnish so people would stare at us crazy-like because we were obviously a bi-racial couple. But he also thinks white people suck and has only 1 white friend that I know of. Funny that he would have a kid with me, then, whose skin turns sickly pale in the winter.

I attend a conference almost every year that has appx 250 people attending, yet not even 1% are black. This year I think there were 5 black men/women who joined us.

My point? 2 years ago we had the pleasure of hearing the Rev. Michael Battle speak with regards to racial inequities in the Episcopal Church. He has since published a new book titled, The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality for Racial Reconciliation. He made the almost 245 white people in his audience realize that in order to call ourselves white, we needed black people to parallel our identity against; without the dark skin of black persons, we wouldn't know we were white. He said a lot more, bringing Flannery O'Connor into it, asking very hard questions, etc. At one point, he went into the audience and asked various individuals how they would define themselves. It was hard for many, who are mostly over the age of 50, to do it. When he asked one woman, "Do you need me to know that you are white?" Her response was, "[brief pause] Well yes, I guess I do."

It goes further with those who say they are "color blind." Bull. Shit.

I see color. I see it in the trees, cars, roads, buildings, sky....and I definitely see it in people. But what those "color blind" folks fail to realize is, while they might not let the tone of a person's skin be the only determining factor of whether or not they will like them, even befriending them, they will still go to another white/black person and say, "Hey, I just met this black/white kid and he was nuts!" With that statement they just contradicted their "color blind" belief system.

We define each other by what "type" we can put each other in. By "typing," it's not necessarily stereotyping, but putting someone in a neat box that we can check off and move on to the next category. It's a way for us to create an identity about people. When we can define them, we can then begin to know them.

I had a conversation once with a guy I was dating. While he was nice, he was totally clueless yet also accepted everyone. He really didn't care what their skin tone was, but he did notice it.

We were sitting irestaurantaunt waiting for our dinner when somehow we got onto the subject of girls dancing in bars with him, rubbin' all up on his jock, and when the song changed or they tired of dancing, they just walked away. This is something like what he told me, "How can they dance like that, then walk away the next? I was expecting something for all that dancing."

What came out of his mouth next didn't really surprise me, but I was disappointed because I thought he had more intelligence than that. He said it was natural after a man gets an erection to expect sex, meaning that he got hard so wtf, why didn't the woman put out.

I corrected him, telling him that while an erection/arousal was natural, getting sex was not. It didn't take long for him to understand but then there was a pause in conversation.

"I'm not the least bit sexist," he said.

"Yes you are," I replied.

"No. I'm not. I think women should be equal. I treat women as I would want to be treated."

"T. You're going to be forever sexist just as I'm going to be forever racist. You can't know what it's like to live my life - as a woman - and I can't know what it's like to live the life of a blHispanicaAsiansian woman. We're both white and we're both highly privileged."

He was what sydney referred to as teachable. Others, notsomuch. My ex-husband would be one of the latter category. Shit, he thinks I'm teaching Peanut to "hate men" and that I don't like men so I must be a lesbian. And I can't possibly like men's bball because I'm a feminist allll's (southern speak) we do is support women's stuff.

Many of us white people have a false privilege, one that is based on a skin color, not our individual personalities. We're more likely to get a loan to buy a house or car, we're more likely to be taken seriously when making large purchases anywhere, we're least likely to be followed in stores, white men can walk or drive around at any time of day or in any kind of car without worrying about what to do if a cop spots them, and most importantly, a white man is more likely to find a job first and be paid more for that job.

Kimberlee Crenshaw wrote on how black woman couldn't sue companies for sexual harassment or discrimination before (and after until a precedent was set) because black men and white women had rights, so why were black women complaining? See, black women could not sue on the basis of racial discrimination if black men worked at the corporation/company and they couldn't sue on the basis of sex discrimination if white women worked there, too. So the task for black women was to get the court to recognize that they were both black and women simultaneously. An arduous task considering even today people don't realize you can't be black or a man/woman, but you are both: their pieces of personality are forever intersecting and/or interlocking.

Sydney, as well as many other minorities, simply ask that we, as white people, remember this place of false privilege when we wake up every morning. Because we remind ourselves every morning, we will better be able to recognize when situations really aren't equal.

So go read sydney's post and then go to the main page, scroll down to Fucking White People Part II, and read her response to the several comments from the original post. It's good for us white folks to be reminded of our place inhierarchyarchy of privilege now and again.