Observations On Being White

Michael Dellert posted this article on FB: http://www.theedadvocate.org/we-cannot-teach-race-without-addressing-what-it-means-to-be-white/

I commented there, but this article struck a cord with me so I’ve brought it into my little blog world.  Here’s what I said on FB:

It is really difficult to talk about being white. It feels like, in most arenas, that I am not allowed a voice because of my race. “White privilege”? That doesn’t seem real to me. I’ve had to work my arse off for what little I have. I didn’t “qualify” for help, food stamps, medicaid or housing even when homeless, living in a car with two kids under the age of 4. So I agree that there needs to be a discussion, a real discussion, about race that doesn’t make presumptions about what it is to be white.

The article, like many others I’ve read, makes it seem like being white is a problem of overindulgence; like a spoiled child. The narrative is that being white prevents you from understanding what it is to struggle. I have to disagree. I don’t feel privileged because I’m white. I had a good childhood, why? Because my dad worked his butt off to provide for his family. He had a small business and was a preacher. He worked 7 days a week.  Before I was born, he worked at whatever job came along, scrapping together enough money to put food on the table. My mother took donated food, clipped coupons, scrimped and stretched every penny when my siblings were young. They were dirt poor and barely making it.  By the time I came along, things were different. My dad was finding success in his little business. They did without (and dad wheeled and dealed to get discounts) so I could attend a Christian school for a few years.  This wasn’t privileged because we were white, this was available because they worked their butts off.  These opportunities didn’t occur because of race, they occurred because of work ethic. They had an understanding that you don’t get to have what you can’t work to afford.

I’m white.  That certainly worked against me when I was a single mom. The case workers of “color” who repeatedly denied my applications for food stamps and medicaid, made it blatantly apparent that those services weren’t for ‘my kind’. My kids and I lived in a car for months. We lived in an abandoned, ramshackle, leaking, rat infested, mobile home for a while too. It was 40 miles to any store, but I didn’t bemoan the ‘food desert’ and blame it on the corporations. When we finally got one of the few rooms at the family homeless shelter in Tampa, the families of “color” wouldn’t talk to us, wouldn’t share a table, complained if my kids tried to play with theirs. Yeah, that’s privilege.  I worked day labor, or rather night labor, cleaning concert venues and stadiums. Many of us in the shelter did the same work, rode with the same transport company that charged us fees for transport which cut into our meager earnings. After 8 hours of back breaking labor, I was the one that was drug tested every time we returned to the shelter because the staff (of color) suspected I’d been imbibing because after cleaning a stadium I smelled like beer. I was tested (and passed) nearly every time I came back from working. That didn’t feel too privileged either but I sucked it up, talked nice, bit my tongue, and did my time. I worked hard, long nights, long days, job hunting in between. I found a position where part of the pay was housing. Not tax payer paid for housing, ME paid for housing. I appreciated that the shelter helped me get up and out. Rules and all, I toed the line did what was necessary to get my family out.

So when people talk about white privilege, I don’t understand what I missed.  I don’t have a voice when it comes to race because if I say, “What privilege?” then I’m calloused, ignorant or racist.  I see being a person of “color” as the ones being privileged.  They get help and handouts, scholarships, housing, and media attention to their “plight”.  I’m work. I pay taxes. I give donations to those struggling. I am paying steadily paying off $40,000 in student loans.  I’m racking up another $30,000 for my Master’s.  I’ll be paying off that too. Me, not a grant or a scholarship or whatever. Me. Paying.  Why? So I can keep working to make me and my family more stable, more economically secure. We don’t have the luxury of help when we fall. I learned that lesson the hard way. In my world, being white means you get nothing. Well, I got the bills and the callouses. I guess that is something.

On top of that, I certainly don’t get to play the ‘race card’ in any other settings. At work, I can’t tell a co-worker of color that they screwed up or didn’t meet a deadline, why? Because I’m white and they would (and have) gone to HR and said that holding them accountable for performance is racially motivated. Never mind that the standards for those not of color are enforced. I can’t enforce the same standard with everyone without being called racist. So, I don’t say anything. The workers of color get to enjoy doing less and the workers not of color have to do more to make up the slack. Again, that doesn’t feel like privilege.

Honestly, I have very few friends of color and those colors aren’t black, they are Hispanic or others. Why? Because I never know if something I consider normal is going to offend a person of color. Like asking what someone does for a living, or where they went to school. I not allowed complain about loud music at 2 am without it being a racial thing. I can’t say certain words, even if a person of color uses the same word. I had a black neighbor tell me “it’s a black thing, you won’t get it”. Apparently being white means I’m learning disabled.  So, No, I don’t have a voice in the race conversation. In current society, its not permitted. Here’s my opinion. I’m white, so by current standards which are established by those of color, that makes me the same as Hitler or a KKK member.  I’m white, so  I won’t understand cultural differences even though I’ve lived in another country and adapted to that country’s language, culture and customs. Because I’m white I cannot be trusted, allowed any type of authority, I’m not allowed to voice opinion or have my views considered. I’m not allowed to question behaviors like, allowing young children to roam at all hours of the night or booty dance like strippers and post it on YouTube.  I’m not allowed to wonder why black males kill black males in droves or why they burn their own community to ashes. I’m white, not allowed to say anything to a black woman shoplifting in Walmart without being screamed at and called a racist bitch. Because I’m white, I’m not permitted to need government assistance. Because I’m white, I’m not allowed to receive, only give, not allowed to question, only observe, not allowed to expect accountability, only endure.  Is that what ‘they’ mean by “white privilege”?

Until the race conversations stop demonizing, patronizing, generalizing and aggrandizing, on all sides,  it will continue to just be screaming into the storm.

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