White Privilege



In my blog posts I don’t get political. I quit Facebook for many reasons (and years before the current “president” took office). People sharing misinformed and ignorant political views was one of them. But the purpose of my writing blogs first and foremost has always been for myself. I do it because I must. It has to come out of me. But I share it, usually to entertain and maybe teach a lesson. So I wrote this blog with the intention of only getting it out of me and onto the page. I would never share this type of intimate thought. It’s too controversial. It’s too real. It’s too personal. And then I realized that the entire idea behind it was that I’m afraid of becoming complacent and one sure way to be complacent is to never talk of the thing you’re complacent about, therefore allowing yourself to hide your inaction and failure to take a stance. Is the woman who watches a child get abused and does nothing just as bad as the woman who commits the abuse? Even if she isn’t “just as bad” (though maybe she is?) she at least is not innocent. So here we go.

You know how sometimes you know something in the back of your mind but it’s unacknowledged and unrealized? Or maybe taken for granted? That is how I have felt about my white privilege. And I realized it the other day while driving. I had this (Awful? Sad? Honest?) thought:

I can’t wait for Trump to be out of office so that I can stop being so angry on behalf of everyone all the time. I realized it was one of those moments where you have just said something to yourself that is really really honest but possibly really very horrible. What is at the heart of that thought? White privilege.

First let me at least say that I have been “color conscious” my whole life. And although racism affects all races and colors and I think our country has a problem with many types of minorities, for this blog I am referring to specifically black and white. I feel like many people know these three stories (at least the four of you who read this, Thank you Aunt Jackie) but here is my very first memory of color consciousness. I don’t remember how old I was but it was definitely between the ages of six and nine. I was on the front porch with one of my neighborhood friends. She lived in the corner house that was facing Echodale, a main road. We were playing. She pointed out that a black man was walking down Echodale. And then immediately and without warning she screamed, “We don’t want you here, get out of here ni**er!!” Then she ducked down behind the porch wall in a fit of giggles. As I was not expecting this and also frozen in a state of mortification I did not move at first. The man looked up at us and shook his head sadly and kept walking. I finally ducked down to where she was and burned with shame. I will never ever forget that feeling. I remember not even understanding fully what that word meant but that in our house it was bad. Very very bad. No one said that word in our house. My family, though Catholic, wasn’t overly Jesus-y or religious but our rules were centered on kindness. “Shut up” was also a forbidden word in our house because of how it made other people feel. We were taught that everyone is a person and deserves to be spoken to with respect.

The next thing I remember was when I was a few years older. We went to visit my godmother who lived on Anntana Avenue in Gardenville. Someone was walking down her street putting flyers on every door of each home. I don’t remember the exact wording of the flyers but it was warning all neighbors that a black family was moving in. I don’t remember if there were instructions or suggestions or any other information I just remember the feeling it gave me. I was once again ashamed of what people were doing.

The last story is about my dad and many people already know this story. I think I was a teenager when this came about but I honestly don’t know if it happened years before or not. My dad went into a Dunkin’ Donuts and there was a white man ranting and raving about “all the ni**ers”. My dad stepped up to him and told him to stop talking like that because he, my dad, used to be black. Was this the best way to handle an ignoramus? I don’t know but it was better than doing nothing. This is how my family was and is. We DO see color and always have because there is a difference in black and white. The difference is the history of our races in this country and the way we have treated each other and allowed that treatment to go on.

If anyone reading this is saying in your head right now that it isn’t that way anymore I would like to just tell you that I currently (in 2019) work with many people who call black people ni**ers, monkeys, and one woman who still says colored. None of them do it in front of me anymore but that is exactly, EXACTLY, the reason why some people think racism isn’t a problem. It’s because of my white privilege. I can make it clear that I do not tolerate that sort of behavior and the ignorant people will simply cease to show me their ignorance. And because I’m white, it doesn’t affect me. I can carry on like they aren’t small minded and uneducated because it changes NOTHING for me. This is the epitome of white privilege.

White privilege means much more than just my argument here, but I’m tackling the part that I believe people forget about, don’t understand, or refuse to admit. It means that your life is not in danger. Your actual physical life or your way of life. Your privilege allows you to not HAVE to talk about or deal with being the target of bigotry, racism, or ignorance because you are UNAFFECTED. Lucky you.

I understand that racism is not cut and dried. It is not as black and white as black and white. There are many gray areas. There are many factors and behaviors that affect each individual person’s ideas of another race. I understand that. So what is the answer?

There are so many nuances and intricacies involved in being a racist and also overcoming racism that it would take many blogs to cover it all. So I’ll just go with one idea. We need to HUMANIZE every single person. Every single person was once somebody’s baby. Was once a child. I have seen people who are racist behind closed doors go out of their way to help a black person. What is this phenomenon? How does this happen? I have seen this a lot actually. It’s on par with those people who say they aren’t racist because they have black friends. There is something in our brains that allows us to think differently about one single HUMANIZED person than a mass of people and all the stereotypes that go along with it. If you are an overt racist, I’m sure you are not reading this blog and I cannot help you with your hatred. But if you are someone who possibly suffers from residual, partial, closeted or inadvertent racism this is for you. Acknowledge your privilege. Here I am. Acknowledging mine. And when the current horrible person in charge of our country is hopefully replaced with someone less repugnant, I will remind myself to not be complacent. My mother has always said the right thing to do is usually not the easier thing. It might be hard and tiring to fight against ignorance and injustice and oppression but how much harder is it for the person being oppressed?

Learning to Learn

Do you have a moment or event in your life that you continually look back on with shame or regret? I’m not speaking to monumental things like getting divorced twice or anything as life changing and stupid as that. I’m more referring to small moments that you hope possibly went unnoticed by others, or even if they didn’t, they were just little embarrassments. I have one that I’d like to share, in order to exfoliate it from myself. This confession will be my loofah.

When Ingrid was alive and I was working “full time” caring for her (aka driving her around, lotion-ing her feet, cleaning the boxes of cat shit) I used to take her to her knitting club once a week. It was at her friend’s house in Timonium and there were usually between four and six women there. Sometimes Ingrid would send me to the store to do the grocery shopping while she knitted and sometimes I would stay and hang with the girls. These were retired women in their fifties, sixties and seventies in Ingrid’s case. They were all very kind to me and I enjoyed their company very much. Their conversations ranged from hen-type gossip to current events to their own life events and books. They were all readers and they talked about books often which was (is) my favorite topic.

Now a word about the discrepancy in the education levels here. I have an annoying Baltimore accent. I say wooder for water (though I’m trying to break the habit!). I graduated high school with a low B/high C average and only went on to community college. And that was over twenty years ago. The job I quit to work for Ingrid was safe and vault technician, a fairly dirty man-job that required zero higher education. But I love books. I love to read, I love to write and I LOVE BOOKS! Bookstores and libraries get me high. The fifty cent book aisle at Goodwill makes me weak-kneed. One time I went to Powell’s books in Portland and I almost believed in god that day.

These friends of Ingrid’s – all educated, well spoken, well compensated women. They went to or sent their children to (or both) private schools. They had vacation homes in New England and sons who took their students to South America for field trips. They drove BMWs and Mercedes. They shopped at small local grocery stores where you could buy fresh dates stuffed with cheeses I’d never even heard of. But here was our unifying fact: We all loved to read (yay books!).

I mistakenly thought that at least my love and knowledge of books could put me in the ballpark with them, if not during the game, maybe for warmups. Cute, aren’t I? One of the ladies, Mary, asked if anyone had read The Life of Pi (this was the year the movie came out so everyone was reading the book). I had recently read it and LOVED it so I piped up right away, raving about how good it was. Mary said she heard it was an allegory. And here is what I said:

“Oh, I don’t know what that is but one of the reasons it was so good is because the whole story is actually just an analogy for something else!”

When their eyes all met each other’s and their smiles got deeper as they nodded and said nothing else it was a true testament to how sweet these women are. It wasn’t even until about a year later when I learned what an allegory is. In ignorant girl speak it’s: an analogy for something else. You might be thinking, so what? You didn’t know what an allegory is. Big deal. Me neither (Well maybe I’m just hoping the last part). But the reason why it is a big deal is because I think I can be a writer. I think I can write books that people will want to read. I actually tell people I want to do nothing but that for the rest of my life!! And to me, a person who wants to do nothing else with the rest of her life but write books who is sitting in a room of educated, well-read women showing her ignorance of allegory is like a wannabe plumber at a plumbing convention saying he doesn’t know the difference between PVC and copper.

Oh. Well, maybe it’s not that bad. I mean that would be really bad, right? So I think in writing this down I may have already exfoliated. Huh. Everyone starts out not knowing anything about anything. You don’t know what you know until you know it. If you actively open yourself up to learning new things every single day, the world is never boring and every moment has the potential to be an adventure. I didn’t know it then. I know it now. So maybe what I’ve been agonizing over these past several years hasn’t been the fact that I’m a wannabe writer who didn’t know what an allegory is but that I’m sadly no longer in touch with any of these wonderful women and therefore can’t update them: I know what an allegory is now. But there are still billions of things I don’t know yet – isn’t that exciting?!