Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Benefits to Being White

I've heard a lot of people talk lately about how racism is dead. They haven't said that outright (maybe because I'd hit them) but they have mentioned "the bad old days" when schools were segregated (been to an inner-city school lately? The only white kids we ever had were a couple of Bosnian refugees). Or they've talked about now that we have a black president, people should stop whining about racism. Or how white people aren't any more likely to be promoted/hired than anyone else, and in fact "reverse racism" is usually the norm.

Now, I'm white so I haven't personally experienced too much racism. But I've seen a lot of it firsthand, and I found these blogs interesting.

Stuff White People Do has a list of things that white people can be grateful for in an average day.

(By the way, I had never heard of "sundown towns" and wish that I still hadn't.)

Same blog, another post about how white people teach their children to "act white." I was skeptical, but I'm not really after reading it. We take a lot for granted, us white folks.

This is another issue that I did NOT understand before I started teaching where I started teaching: Many people of color are afraid to call the police. (watch the documentary) Or just too skeptical. I never understood this - the police are your friends, right? They're there to preserve law and order! Then I moved and started hearing a lot of stories about mostly black men being treated badly by the police, arrested mistakenly (maybe they "all look alike"?), etc. I know that not every cop is bad, of course. There are many very, very good ones. But white people don't tend to be the ones who are harassed by the bad cops, so it's easy for us to overlook it.

What made me a believer was the year that 115 people were killed in the city of 400,000 that I was living and working in. Guess how many of those were white? One. Guess how many made the front page? The one white one. Many of the others were one paragraph in the back of the newspaper or not news at all until the paper published an end of the year look at the homicide victims, with photos of all 115. The rest just weren't news. It was expected. You can argue as much as you want about whose fault that is. I've heard the extremes - some people saying that black families are often fatherless because of poor morals in the black community and others saying it is the fault of white people, and centuries of legal racism, owning people as property, not letting families be together, etc. (I tend to think that might have a little to do with it). Either way, it should be news every time a person is killed, not just if they are white and live in a nice area.

There are tons of examples I have that may or may not have to do with race. All the times that my class (mostly black) lined up to get on BART or AC Transit and the driver yelled "No room!" and rushed off. That may have happened if the kids were white. But... really? Would it? That often? The fact that when I've gone places with coworkers who were not white, that they are watched carefully by the employees while I'm not. The conditions at my school (here is a photo of the average everyday level of cleanliness of my school in my last year) - would the district put up with this in a mostly white school? The fact that my students are - at age 8 - already resigned to the fact that they have to be scared of the police.

Then there was the time I was driving around the projects near my school with a black co-worker, to do a home visit. This area is not particularly safe, and it was getting dark. Now, this co-worker has basically the same educational background as I do, except she went to a better school. We had the same job, we were of the same social class.

As we were driving, she pointed out that I was much less likely to get shot than she was. This didn't make a lot of sense to me until she said to me, "If we both got shot, the police would find out who did it for you. There would be an outcry and people would demand justice. I'd just be another dead n***** in this neighborhood."

And she was absolutely right. I wouldn't have agreed with her ten years ago. A lot of people reading this may not agree with her. I understand wanting to believe that our society is past that. I understand not wanting to see it, or honestly not seeing it because it's not happening to you. But if you really disagree, I want to challenge you. Spend some time volunteering in East Oakland or Hunter's Point in San Francisco, or whatever your local equivalent is. Volunteer at a black church or at a mostly black or Latino school or with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Get to know some people. Ask them about some of this. Ask them for their own stories. Then come back to me and tell me what you think. Until you've experienced it, I don't think you'll believe it.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Have you seen this, with regards to bias? This is brought up in the book Blink.