STORY OF RACISM:
Sometimes the racism is more personal than others. In what we assumed was safe space, in what seemed at first like a harmless conversation, my kids (2 of them not quite adults at the time, 1 still a very young adult) were asked how they label themselves in regard to race. Their answers were as different as their personalities. One said boldly, “Black. They’re going to call me that anyway so I claim it first.” Another said, “I try not to label myself because I’m neither black nor white but I’m both black and white. And it’s no one’s business what I am.” The last to answer, more pragmatic, said, “it depends. If it’s for school and I think they’ll will get money for me being a minority, I’ll choose black on their stupid form. There’s never an option to choose biracial so it’s not like I can answer correctly anyway.” And the trusted, deeply loved person who asked the question, reacted, incredulous, saying loudly and angrily, “You can’t be black! Your dad makes too much goddamn money!”
I still can’t quite get my head around that one. So blatantly equivocating blackness with poverty. Restated, he’s saying “if your dad has money, you can’t be black.”
Which brings me to another issue: intersectionality. And of course those of you who have been following along know that in my stories there’s been intersectionality of race and gender that I didn’t overtly express. This is the intersectionality of race and poverty, of course, and add to that the unspoken layer of weirdness that some people mentally classify foreign black people in a higher, better category than American black people. So there’s that working under the surface here too: Jacques is seen as less of a problem, easier to accept, because he is foreign. He doesn’t fully count as black. Combine his income level with his foreign status, and he’s not black at all. So his kids can’t be either, of course. It was a rough, eye-opening day.
MY WHITE PRIVILEGE:
Ok maybe this isn’t about my own white privilege, but more of the example of white privilege in this story. When my kids said they identify mostly as black, I suspect that they unintentionally made it seem like they were ignoring their white heritage, effectively erasing our family member’s existence in their beings. For the first time, he may have felt — unconsciously of course — undervalued, underrepresented, unconsidered, unprioritized. Diminished to almost non-existence. Much like people of color are made to feel on a daily basis. And his reaction was to be angry and incredulous. Because he’s allowed to be. Unlike people of color, specifically black people, whose anger is disregarded, dismissed, declared unreasonable. That is white privilege.
This post gives me more anxiety than the previous posts. Surely because it is about people we love, with whom we want to continue to be in relationship. So I’ve solicited more opinions before posting than I did in previous days. I asked my oldest to read this before I posted, asked especially if I was assuming too much about how people of color feel. Her response was to say, “Anytime we voiced our opinions about being less than or diminished because of our race, he bulldozed us, told us we were too defensive, that it had all been solved 50 years ago.” For that reason alone, I will push aside my anxiety. So that my kids will know they are seen, their opinions valued and trusted.
Originally posted June 2020 on https://medium.com/@invisibleleftovers