Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On my own whiteness

I thought I'd write something a little more personal today.

Certain things I say unthinkingly to others makes them pause; I say these things to make people reflect inward, but instead, their first reaction is to question me further, point out the obvious to me as if it had escaped my notice every day looking in the mirror and seeing pale freckled skin, blonde hair and green eyes.

I know I'm white.

The things I say are all pretty standard, taken from my list of "Things I hate about whiteness." Examples are "I hate rock shows because white people won't dance--they punch each other," "White people piss me off because they have no idea they're so privileged." Or sometimes it will be just a comment on a movie where I point out something is racist, and I hate that white people just ignore it or wallow blissfully in their own ignorance by not recognizing what's racist. And every time I call out racism that white people are doing, that I hate white people some intelligent motherfucker will inevitably say "But you're white." OMG REALLY?? I had absolutely no fucking idea until you graciously pointed that out to me.

Just because I'm white, doesn't mean that gives people a pass to say racist things to me because they feel safe in an all-white setting. Just because I'm white doesn't mean I won't call out other white people on racism. And I certainly don't need you to point out, that I too, am white.

A lot of the people pointing out the obvious just stop thinking right there; they would rather write me off as some weirdo "disgracing my race" (yes, I've heard that one before) than look inward and find and question the racist beliefs they have.

I admit, I once bought into racism--basically believing certain stereotypes without realizing they're racist--I wondered how something could be racist if lots of people engage in it. I hung out with kids in high school who were racist, and I didn't even realize it. It wasn't until I was in college where I began questioning every thing, began cutting myself off from friends who held onto their hate so strongly that they'd rather lose a friend that accept that people are equal. I spent lots of time with my dad's side of the family after my mom divorced him and weekends were alternated--this being what I refer to as "the racist side." But just because part of my family taught that hating was okay didn't mean I couldn't remove myself from that thinking.

It had been quiet racism--they never used the n-word at least (even then I knew that was absolutely not okay). But then I brought over my first boyfriend, and it was AWKWARD. My dad took me outside on the patio, while my then-boyfriend sat in the living room with my grandparents--he was a very outgoing guy and could keep a conversation going in just about any situation. My dad then told me that he was uncomfortable. He gave the inevitable "I'm not racist but" then followed it with "I would prefer if you dated someone of your own race."

Then I knew. I started reflecting on everything he said, and realized just how deep his and his parents' racism was. My own dad wouldn't look at my prom pictures because my date was black. Even now my brother will not bring his girlfriend to visit or meet them because of their racism (even though he's been dating her for two years).

My fiance is white, and in the four years we've been together I have only subjected him to my dad's side four times. The moment they met him they loved him. I thought back to when they met my first boyfriend, how my dad gave the "you hurt my daughter, I hurt you" speech--for a half hour. When he first met my white boyfriend, that same speech was less than five minutes--and a lot less threatening.

It's disturbing to me that the people I'm related to have hatred for other human beings, and I do my best to speak against it, though I know it does little good. Some days I just tell myself they're set in their ways and their thinking--not to justify it, but to tell myself it's not my responsibility to remove their hate: it's theirs.

So, yes, I am white. But me being white doesn't mean I have to let other white people tell me racist things. Because I'm white doesn't mean I don't have to learn from other people. Because I'm white doesn't make hushed racism among whites okay. Because I'm white doesn't mean I can't be offended by racism and hatred and bigotry.

I still learn from others. I realize that my perspective is limiting. I spend large amounts of my time reading other blogs, trying to absorb as much as I can that will help me in how I interact with others.

And I reflect.


Macon D said...

Yes, it's tough to deal with racism in people who love you. I think you're courageous and sincere for keeping these thoughts upfront instead of burying them, and for going public with them, and speaking out in private when racism arises.

A lot of the people pointing out the obvious just stop thinking right there; they would rather write me off as some weirdo "disgracing my race" (yes, I've heard that one before) than look inward and find and question the racist beliefs they have.Right. You violate mostly unspoken and even unconscious rules of white solidarity. And then so many whites question the validity of non-white gatherings and togetherness.

It's a mess, isn't it?

Whit said...

When you wrote about the things about whiteness that you hate, it gives the impression that you're trying to divorce yourself from your own whiteness. And that is one aspect of the whole colorblind/I'm a unique snowflake/post-racial/Race Traitor kind of problem.

I think it's important that white people critique whiteness to other whites. At the same time, trying to distance yourself from "bad" whiteness is all kinds of privileged nastiness.