When I look in the mirror, I don’t see Privilege. I do not think to myself, well today when I go to the store I will be treated well, store security will not follow me, the lady at checkout will not demand two pieces of identification if I write a check. I don’t think the police will likely let me go with a warning if I drive a few miles over the speed limit; no one will follow me if I am somewhere, in some neighborhood I have never been before looking at houses.
When I roll out of bed and consider my day, I don’t think to myself, “Damn, I am so lucky I was born White.”
Do you, or if like me your skin is White and your heritage is mixed bag of European American you simply take for granted the beginning of another day and never consider what it means to be fundamentally, you as in your racial identity.
When I look in the mirror, I see crow’s feet and think, “Shit they are getting longer and deeper”.
When I look in the mirror, I see the reverse skunk stripe down my part and think, “Dang, time for another touch up”.
I do not however ever see my racial identity in stark terms. I don’t see it and wonder how it might affect my life today.
What I don’t do is wonder what I should wear to the local market, it doesn’t matter what I wear, they will still treat me as if I matter. Even if I don’t do anything more than sort of comb my hair or just run water through it and hope for the best, throw on yoga pants and a tee shirt. Not one person in that store would ever think to wonder just what the hell I was doing there, I belong; my skin tone gives me the right, the privilege of belonging.
Never thought about how I was lucky, fortunate in comparison simply based on my much paler skin. What I considered were those things I could not change about myself that made my life more difficult;
- I was born a woman.
- I am getting older.
- I had been divorced and financially ruined in that divorce.
- I had been hurt and left with disabilities.
These things, some which are simply characteristic to my birth and others, which are part of life, affect my ability to find work and sometimes advance, stay productive, earn a living, prepare for my retirement and be financially stable.
They are frankly first world problems. They do not prevent me from moving in the world in meaningful ways. They do not cause others to look at me with suspicion simply for walking into a store or in the neighborhood. In fact some of my problems are invisible, some of my problems because of the color of my skin are more easily overcome than they would be otherwise.
Do I compartmentalize my own experiences? View the world based on my own expectations of a world that is better than it is. My husband has told me I do this that I frequently do not see “ugly” behavior for what it is; I do not put the behavior in its proper perspective. I have had to wonder about this lately, question my own ability to truly “see”.
One True Story
When my parents were alive they lived in a small town in the Hill Country of Texas, we visited often, to eat, drink and play golf. My parents lived on the golf course and frequented the clubhouse for lunch. There are very few Black people in this community. We never thought about this, never considered it an issue; it never occurred to us that anyone would treat a member of our family badly.
We sat down and perused the menu (written on the chalkboard), we were all chatting and laughing together. My brothers, father and ex-husband had just finished a rousing game of golf and DB had beaten their pants off. The men were bad talking each other and we women were rolling our eyes and hoping they would stop, soon please. DB and I were only recently married and had not been to the new house together, but my father and mother were well known to the staff. When the waitress came over to the take our order, she went around the table joking with members of the family, taking orders as my father proudly introduced those she hadn’t met before. When she got to DB and me, she skipped over him, her eyes slid off him as if he didn’t exist though she had taken my order and he was sitting right next to me she pretended not to see him. It was astounding. My father reminded her she had missed his order and proceeded to proudly introduce my husband.
I realize now my father saw what DB saw and I am humiliated by my insensitivity. My husband was mortified and hurt by the encounter and refused to eat there ever again. He told me why and I understood it, I simply did not “see” it until he told me.
We that is all of us, in our intransigence regarding race relations in the United States today are the problem. Our refusal to see the problem, our refusal to discuss the problem in real terms, our refusal to ‘allow’ historical context to those that racial bias most affects; we are the problem. Whether we ourselves are unambiguous in our pathological bigotry or we are vague and shroud our intent in a labyrinth of policy and statistics, we remain the problem. Even if we believe we have not a shred of bias, bigotry or racism in our hearts, we are the problem if we refuse to see the truth of this nation and its very real problems with race relations today in 2013.
Discussions of Race and its Historical Context by the President of the United States is not divisive. This President is a Black Man in this United States. In spite of his Bi-Racial make-up he is seen as only one thing on the street, that is Black Man. When he was growing up he was seen as a Black Boy, a Black Teenager. When he ran for office he was hated or loved for his Blackness in many cases. His words on July 19, 2013, were not divisive they were contextual and personal. Yet before he was done those who refuse to see, refuse to hear and refuse to accept Historical Context and Racism as Reality in 2013 went after his comments as if he were the problem. He isn’t.
We are the problem. We are the problem on individual levels when we refuse to examine and correct our own responses and reactions. We are the problem when we refuse to engage in necessary discussions. We are the problem when we don’t speak up, when we don’t get involved when we see inequity happening right in front of us. We are the problem when we don’t stand up and refuse the status quo. We may not be able to change the hearts of men (or women), we can certainly change the outcome of how their words and our own affect our society.