Since I've joined the blogosphere (which hasn't been long) I have discovered some interesting blogs that I feel are worth following.
Just a few days ago I found a blog page entitled stuffwhitepeopledo. The blog is written by a man named Macon D. On his profile he describes himself as, "a white guy, trying to find out what that means. Especially the 'white' part."
Not only do I admire Macon D's efforts, his story brings me to a point of reflection. His story has me reflecting on some of my own efforts and history.
I am a woman of a mixed ethnicity. I am half Mexican and half White "mutt." The first period of my life that I really began to explore race, culture, triumph and oppression was in college. I was attending a liberal arts college in the small town of Olympia, Washington. I can honestly say that The Evergreen State College changed my life and for that I am eternally grateful.
At one point I took a multi-cultural counseling class entitled "180 Degrees". Like most classes at Evergreen, there were no grades, no tests, and technically no majors only an "emphasis". Let me reassure you that this school IS accredited and has a wonderful reputation! Haha! Let me also note that this unorthodox schooling did not equate to an easy ride. 180 Degrees was very much a preparation for graduate school.
The class consisted of about 19 students and a work load of heavy reading, writing, projects, internship and very intense class discussion. When we met for "seminar" the topics were often heated. Sure the class taught us psychology and therapy but we also focused on cultural competency.
This winded story carries me to one specific memory. At one point several of the black students turned to the rest of us who weren't, to say that they were sick and tired of being our tutors or teachers on race. They told us that if we really wanted to know...if we really wanted our questions answered we needed to do our own research and find our own creative ways in which to understand.
Initially, I was torn. At 21 years of age I remember thinking...well, aren't we all here in this class to share our specific perspectives? Aren't we here to learn from each other? While these questions seemed perfectly logical and appropriate at the time, I remember having to really ruminate. I was conflicted.
One black woman announced to the class that she had been stewing with frustration for quite some time as she felt the class "skated" around the issue of race but never really addressed it. Being the introvert that I am it was difficult for me to really put myself out there. Eventually, I turned to her and asked her what she meant specifically. She was vague and never gave a clarifying answer. At a certain point I felt so frustrated I wanted to just blurt out, "TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT!"
I remember that after a while I became uneasy around this woman. A woman who was twice my age, with more life experience, and certainly more racial oppression than I had ever faced. Eventually, I put that asiade and told myself to just snap out of it. Could she have easily been more specific with me? Should she have simply told me what it was that she wanted the class to acknowledge? Perhaps. But there was a bigger issue at hand.
When we want questions answered about feminism should we seek out women? When we want to know more about the LGBTQ community should we seek out a gay friend? The person whom you seek will have an experience that is unique to them. And yes, there are some individuals who are very willing to share their stories and educate the masses. But really, it can be an exhausting job. I find this to be true when I speak up about feminist issues. So, yes I think it is quite important for us to take the initiative and explore for ourselves.
I am not in touch with anyone from that class anymore. It was certainly a life changing journey but I think in the end we went our separate ways. The professor who teaches that class had said that his students react to the experience differently. But really, it did turn me "180 Degrees."
After I had graduated and returned home to California I felt changed. I continued to reflect on my experiences and realized that the journey did not end upon my culmination of that exhausting but inspiring program.
I began seeking out literature on race, sexism, privilege and class. I am no expert and I have no idea how much of these books I retain but I am always seeking a forum in which to touch upon these issues.
Can it be scary to open up about sensitive issues like these? You betcha! But really..what else are we going to do?
So, moving on to Macon D's recent post on his blog stuffthatwhitepeopledo. He just wrote a post entitled Rarely Notice Their White Moments.
Rather than simply paraphrase his post (even though I have posted links above to his post) I am just going to paste it here.
Monday, August 31, 2009If you're a person who fits the category of "white," how often do you actually notice that you're white? I propose the concept of "white moments." These are moments when something happens to a white person -- usually something positive, or good -- that would have happened differently if he or she were not a white person. These also tend to be moments that the ordinary white person doesn't notice as a white moment. As a moment, that is, in which something happened differently because they were white than it likely would have otherwise. I also propose a corollary, "non-white moments" (or if you prefer, "people of color moments"). These are moments during interactions with white people when something happens to a non-white person that would have happened differently, or even might have happened differently, if he or she were white. It's also a moment that the non-white person -- as opposed to the white person in a white moment-- is likely to notice as a racial moment. Non-white people, that is, are more likely than white people to notice how their race affects, or may affect, the things that happen to them. If this is true, then this difference is part of a more general difference: non-white people generally understand racial realities, including their own parts in them, better than white people do. In Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege, Shannon Sullivan explains how the psychoanalytic concept of "leading ideas" can help to understand common white ways of thinking and being, including this particular mode of white oblivion. Freud points out that "leaders" of groups are usually thought of as individual people, but that the members of groups also follow big ideas that function like the people who lead groups. Such leading ideas are often conscious, but they can also be unconscious. Also, a leading idea can be more conscious for one group than it is for another. Generally, the leading idea of "race," especially one's own race, is more of an unconscious leading idea for whites than it is for non-whites. As Sullivan writes, Because the white supremacist consciously affirms white supremacy as her leading idea, she is consciously aware of her membership in a group of white supremacists. In contrast, it might sound strange to describe a person as unaware of what groups she belongs to, and Freud does not discuss this as a possibility.
But people who are not aware of their leading ideas often are not aware that they belong to a particular group and that the group's attitudes affect the way that they view and interact with the world. This is certainly true of many white people with regard to their membership in whiteness. The seeming naturalness and resulting invisibility of white privilege often prevent it from being recognized as a leading idea. In contrast, Sullivan adds, members of racial minorities tend to be highly aware of their racial membership, "because it often is forced upon them by a racist world." Michelle Johnson attempts to quantify the black experience of this phenomenon in her book, Working While Black: The Black Person's Guide to Success in the White Workplace. She calls the overt, relatively frequent black awareness of being perceived as black "the 15 percent difference": What I think many whites, including (ironically) even liberal whites, don't get, is that even though our experiences as black people can be 85 percent the same as white people, some days that 15 percent difference is the only difference we feel.
Johnson explains that this difference comes about in moments when a black worker in a largely white workplace either knows, suspects, or wonders if what just happened had something to do with his or her race. Johnson is careful to note that not all blacks feel this difference in the same amount, and that different jobs will produce different percentages. "One could say," she writes, "that when you're a leader in the civil rights movement, your 15 percent is actually 100 percent." Of course, different people of color will also feel this difference differently, and in different percentages. I'd like to hear, for instance, what percentage of time a Korean American feels his or her race in largely white settings, or a Latina, or an Arab American, or an Indian in England, or an Indonesian in Australia. These will all differ, but the main point here for me as a white American is that when I interact with others in largely white environments, I'm almost never encouraged to know, suspect, or wonder if what just happened had something to do with my race. As a result, my awareness percentage in those terms could well be below one percent. And so, paradoxically, one of the "leading ideas" of whiteness is the false idea that being white has next to nothing to do with who I am and how other people treat me. One thing that white people are often encouraged to do in anti-racism discussions is take note of their "white privilege," as Peggy McIntosh does in her pioneering article on the topic. I try to do that, and doing so has actually become something of a habit for me. I often pause in the midst of a day's events to think about how much easier the day is going for me, simply because I'm white (I wrote about such a pause here). One thing that I think even fewer white people do is notice, during ordinary, everyday moments, the dynamic relevance of their whiteness -- aside from white privilege. Notice, that is, that they are white, and that it does affect how many situations play out for them, whether or not those situations clearly involve "privilege." And yet, when I do think of such moments in my own life, they always do seem to boil down to privilege. At the very least, any moment I can think of in a largely white setting that seemed to play out in a particular way because I'm white also went more smoothly or easily than it would have otherwise. That smooth easiness is a form of white privilege. For example -- was the following just a "white moment," or a moment of "white privilege"? I went to a movie the other night with a white friend. As the previews began we found seats, as we always do, in the third row. We like being that close to whatever big fantasy world the filmmakers have put together; also, we can sit in the middle of the screen, and rarely have anyone sitting next to us. Plenty of arm-room that way. But last night the theater was crowded, so a white woman ended up sitting next to me, along with her white male partner. As she sat down, I removed my arm from the armrest between us. "Oh, that's okay!" said the blond, thirty-something woman cheerfully. "You can put your arm back. I'm not worried about catching cooties from you!" My friend and her friend/partner heard this, and all four of us laughed. I've noticed that strangers often use such cheerful, joking comments to put each other at ease. The laughter assures everyone that we're all okay with each other, and with being thrust together like this, into a sort of intimacy that we wouldn't otherwise share. However, as we all turned to the screen, sitting sort of together now in the dark, I also realized that we could all laugh about her "cooties" comment, and laugh more easily, and more together, because we were all white. What if, that is, I hadn't been white? Would she have even said that to a black man or woman? Or someone clearly Hispanic, or Asian? "I'm not worried about catching cooties from you"? And if she had said it to someone of another race, what might that have meant, or implied? She might not have even chosen to sit next to me if I hadn't clearly been white -- there were some other empty seats. Again, if I'd been a member of a clearly different race and she had chosen to sit next to me, she might not have said that. Or, she might not have said that, but still thought it. Or rather, some version of it: I better not sit next to him -- I might catch cooties! As the movie began, I also thought about how I was probably the only one among us four who thought about what it meant to be white in that moment. I don't mean to pat myself on the back for that. But I do mean that I'm more aware of what it means for me to be white than I used to be. That awareness makes me understand my own life better, and how it typically goes for me, and how I got to where I am. It helps me understand how my becoming white has meant adopting a distorted and oblivious view of the world, and of my place in it. This better understanding of the daily workings of my whiteness also makes it a little easier to understand how others got to where they are, and to think about them, and react to them and treat them differently, and I hope better, than I would otherwise. It also motivates my social activism, my efforts to reject the complacency encouraged by my whiteness by joining anti-racism efforts. The movie, by the way, was that muddled racism allegory, District 9. The theater was almost full, and most of the viewers were white. As we watched, I noticed something else that I think a lot of white people there didn't notice. When the cartoonish villain who was a black guy (a Nigerian gang leader) got his head blown off, most of the audience laughed. Later, when the cartoonishly villainous white guy (a murderous mercenary) was also decapitated, most of the audience was silent. I think that together, those two moments in time became another white moment.
I remember after completing the multi-cultural program at Evergreen, I began questioning everything. I saw issues of race, sexism, classism, homophobia, and agism everywhere! It was frustrating and exhausting! Certainly, not an easier life but a more conscience one. One in which I could not only continue to educate myself, but one in which I could be an example for others. My goal then and today is to be that ripple in the pond in which I can influence and learn from others.
In addition to my new awakening I realized I was also afraid. I was afraid of offending another individual, I noticed that rather than really critiquing an issue I might jump to an assumption that something was oppressive. I think I developed some liberal guilt. I am not ashamed in anyway. My experience was part of the learning process and a natural progression from where I had started.
I will continue to make mistakes, to fumble, to learn, to regress, to grow, and reach out through activism.