I have written at least 36 versions of this post, and I am not exaggerating. Every time that I got started on it, I tried to do what I usually do and try to make what I was attempting to say personal. When I would do that, I would go way off topic, and what I was writing began to sound like complaining and whining about my plight as a white woman and that was so not what I was trying to say. I had valid reasons for sharing those stories – I thought that they were relevant. And they are, but everyone (and I DO mean everyone) has similar or worse stories. And then it hit me – this post is about us as a nation -- where we stand and where we are headed. It isn't about one incident in Florida or California, but about all of the incidents in every state. And although I learned a great deal about myself in all of those attempts at writing it, it is not about me.
When I started this post, I thought I knew what my message was: Racism is wrong and we should stop it. I still believe that, but as I wrote, I found myself becoming angry, defensive, and hurt as I examined the ways racism is prevalent in our society and how it is a multifaceted beast that is perpetuated by our media, by our politicians and leaders, and by each and every one of us. I fought to separate race, from culture, from class, and from something as basic as personality and I learned that these things are all intertwined in our definitions of people. I realized that I resent the fact that my opinions, my voice, my feelings about racism are somewhat invalidated because as a white woman, I am assumed to have never been the object of prejudice and therefore can only speak in generalities about racial injustice or from the side of the oppressors. That concept is in and of itself prejudicial. This was a post of self-discovery for me. I learned a lot about myself. Some of it I am proud of, and some of it I am ashamed to admit. Writing these 2,000 or so words will not change the world, but I hope that they might cause each of you to examine your own views and maybe force you to ask some difficult questions, face some things about yourself that you’ve been afraid to admit, and begin to change.
In case you weren’t aware, I am white. I am a white, Southern, middle-aged woman, who lives in Texas – probably one of the most politically conservative states in the country. I do not consider myself a racist, but because of where I was born, the color of my skin, and where I live, many would say that I am. However, as I closely examine myself and my reactions to things I see in the media as well as real life, I shamefully admit that I am an elitist. Not to be condescending, but in case you didn’t know, an elitist is someone who feels that they are somehow better than others because of their education, their attitude, their circumstances, or whatever. Basically, I find myself feeling more educated or more intelligent than others and therefore somehow superior. Race has nothing to do with it. It does not matter what color, race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, or whatever you are – if you present as an idiot, I feel better than you somehow. I am not proud of it, and once I recognized it in myself, I am working to change.
We live in a racially charged nation. The scars from the civil rights movement are still felt by those old enough to remember firsthand the injustices of the time before and during the first steps we took toward change as a nation and without meaning to, they are passing along that pain and hate to the next generation. White parents tell their children to avoid certain areas of town, to be more careful around this race or that race, and to adopt a stay out of the way attitude. Parents of black children, Hispanics, Asian, Arab, and others tell their kids to be careful how they conduct themselves – that they will be treated differently because of their skin color (a fact reinforced by the white parents who tell their kids to act differently around them). We should learn from our past mistakes so that we don’t repeat them, but as a nation we seem to perpetuate the feelings of mistrust, fear, and hate.
It is insulting to think of anything as being exclusively “white” – to do so would be to projecting a racial prejudice. Yet we allow other races to have their own exclusive organizations and events without question. There are pageants that are exclusively “black” or “Hispanic.” There are clubs and organizations that are exclusively one race or another. The only exclusively white organization that I know of is the Ku Klux Klan – and as offended as I am by their bigotry and hate, I question what the difference is? Why is it okay for other races to have racial exclusiveness under the guise of racial pride without anyone raising the question of hate? The double standards are astounding – Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Black businessmen’s associations, Asian community centers, etc. There is nothing wrong with any of these organizations, and I am NOT comparing them to the KKK, but I am pointing out that they exist without question. But I am asking it. While I fully support separate religious organizations (for example, I should not have the right to infiltrate a Muslim organization since I am not Muslim) because there are Catholics, protestants, Muslims, etc. of all races. Why is ANY racial exclusion okay?
I am not much on conspiracy theories, so I am not sure that this divide is intentionally perpetuated by Hollywood, but as I flip through my television channels, the separation is blatant. There are sitcoms where every character is white, sitcoms where every character is black, sitcoms where every character is Hispanic. The ones that have various races play up the stereotypes. There is the funny Asian guy who speaks poor English, the Hispanic guy who speaks with a heavy accent, and the black guy who is a gang member or a hip-hop artist. The Asian women are depicted as uneducated, meek, quiet, and submissive, the black women as full of attitude, and the Hispanic women as defiant, and abrasive. These are generalizations, of course, but there is no denying that these stereotypes are being blasted on the airways and we and our kids see them over and over. Racially mixed families are common in real life – I know of at least 5 on my street and my family is one of them, but they are not being portrayed in our entertainment. No, the general message on television is that the races are separate and distinct and have little in common with each other. As long as that is the message that we send out, that is the message that we as a nation will continue to believe, and it will be forever ingrained in our kids, who will in turn pass it along to their own children.
Then there is the media. The media brings race into everything. If a black cop shoots a black man while a crime is in progress, it is simply a cop doing his job. But if the same guy is shot in the same circumstances by a white cop, then race obviously played a role. They freely discuss “black leaders” and “black communities” or “Hispanic leaders” and “Hispanic communities” and it is not questioned. However, there are no “white leaders” or “white communities” because those phrases would imply a prejudice toward every other race. If you are white, in America, then you exist as a non-race. At one time, there was bias and prejudice towards the Irish-Americans, the Russian-Americans, the Greek-Americans, and other “white” immigrant cultures. But over time, those prejudices all but disappeared and we became the non-race of “white.” I look forward to when the same is true for all races and cultures, but we are not, as a nation, moving in that direction.
Then there are the Jesse Jackson’s and Al Sharpton’s of the world, and the white politicians who are too numerous to count, and I am certain that there are counterparts for every racial and ethnic group that I am not as familiar with. I know that these people who love the spotlight do not represent the majority of the races that they claim to represent, yet they are allowed to speak in the media as if they do. People who do not live in racially diverse areas can only assume that these are the attitudes of every black, or white, or Hispanic, or Arab, or Asian. The reason is, they are the ones who reach for the microphones. They are the ones who preen for the cameras. They are the ones that, I believe started with good intentions of rallying change, but have devolved into a campaign of self-promotion. The white politicians have to choose their words carefully – they will be labeled by what they say as racist, or homophobic, or biased. The result is that their messages are benign – neither good nor bad, but ineffective in their banal attempt to remain PC. But those from other races, speak with fire behind their words. Their words rarely call for peace, rather they incite anger. They perpetuate the feelings of anger by bringing up crimes against their races that go back hundreds if not thousands of years. Crimes that happened before you and I were born by people we’ve never met and that cannot be changed. The racial oppression of the past is brought to the forefront of every speech that they make. Things that cannot be changed or ever justified, yet they call for justice. How could that ever happen? It can’t. And there are plenty of injustices today that require attention and can be changed.
I have read about “White Privilege” and I thought that it was an odd concept in today’s world. However, there are things that I cannot deny – the band-aids in the store are colored to closely match my skin, when I get a job no one questions if my race had anything to do with it, and when I get pulled over by the cops the only thing I have to worry about is a ticket. Things I take for granted. Things that other races resent my whole race for but that I had nothing to do with. I don’t make band-aids. I am not a cop. And I am not a politician. My family, although “Southern” never owned anyone, and endured their own prejudices as a mixture of Scottish-Irish-American Indians, some of whom moved to the South from the North after the Civil War, but none of that matters because my skin is white and that means that I am privileged. It makes me want to apologize for being born white. Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds?
Here is the thing: You and I cannot change the past. We cannot help the actions of others. We can only change ourselves and try to change the world through our own choices, the official we elect, the lessons we teach our kids, and the way that we deal with people of other races, cultures, and backgrounds. We need to try and recognize and accept our differences and be proud of them and try to learn from each other.
But for that to work, we have to stop with the exclusion and hate. It's long overdue.