Friday, November 15, 2013

In response to a comment in The Black Bruins Video

I watched this video and was impressed with these young men speaking out about something that they felt was an injustice. I was impressed with their using words and art to convey their feelings of frustration. I was impressed with their cohesive expression. I was impressed with a lot.   

I went on to read the comments on the video and found a lot of sad, unthoughtful responses. I did not waste my time an energy on those. It is not productive. Then I read a comment I could relate with:

Numuves : "I'm not completely sure where I stand on this video. I was a bit confused by it to be honest but, I'm actually glad that there's some dialogue happening here which is probably a good thing. People don't talk openly enough about "race". Anyway, I'm noticing a lot of people throwing the word "White privilege" around as if it is a scientific fact and that it applies to all Whites. I'm pretty sure it isn't a proven fact like gravity and we shouldn't assume that just because you believe it to be true that it is the truth. A lot of people are saying that the true privilege is money and that's an interesting point. Anyway, I guess I'm just trying to say that it isn't helpful to dump your beliefs on others and then disparage them for not believing the exact same thing you do."

I replied: "I agree! I am white and I sure as hell don't get any privileges! But then folks might argue "well, you are a girl. That is what affirmative action is all about! Helping you out."  Except that 50.8 % of the US is female, all applying for those same scholarships. Those who have race and religion to add to the mix have a better chance of getting those scholarships than I did. And my "privileged white brother" couldn't get any scholarships, even though he was as qualified as I was. He had to drop out because he couldn't afford the debt. I took on the debt and now I can't get a job to pay it off. Welcome to the world of the "white privileged female" in the US. Life sucks for most of us no matter what our skin color, creed, sexual orientation, or religion. But if others don't speak out about their own experiences, then people don't know that, do they? "

And then Imcalledlove replied: "It's inaccurate to compare white privilege to something as tangible and physical as gravity. White privilege is intangible. The term white privilege has a long history, but most recently from an article by Peggy McIntosh, "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" (a great article). White privilege applies to all non-minority peoples who don't have to think about their race and how it effects their life on a daily basis. Are you profiled at the grocery store for writing a supposedly "bad check"? A person’s white privilege is reflected they second they wonder why people are still talking about race."

I had never read this article by McIntosh, so I decided to look it up. Yeah, I like to learn! I started to write a response in the comments section of Youtube, but realized it was a bit long (Lols, just a bit ;)  ) So I decided to write a blog post. Racism and socio-economics are topics that are near to my heart. Here is my response. 

It is interesting that McIntosh's article was written in 1988, and I have found that many of the points that she addresses are no longer true. Certainly, we have a ways to go in "leveling the playing field", but isn't it nice to look at the progress we HAVE made? And then it is also important to look at how many of those things apply to the economics as well? Growing up "poor", I think I can attest to this to an extent. 

Here are the "invisible knapsack" points that McIntosh addressed. She stated, "I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions." 

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. 

I can, but I am not comfortable with "white" people. My husband and I moved to "suburbia" after graduating and relocating cross-country for a job. I was so uncomfortable living there that as soon as our six month lease was up, we moved to a neighborhood with more diversity. We are all happier here than we were in "the American Dream" neighborhood.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me. 

Nope, see above reference.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live. 

Beyond the first two questions, we have really struggled with renting properties. On top of that, after doubling our income we still cannot be considered for purchasing a home because our college debt is too high. We had to fudge the numbers to get a new car because our old car didn't meet the emission requirements in our new state, and we didn't make enough money.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me. 

They weren't, which is why we moved.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed. 

Nope. I am a woman. My husband benefited from this before we moved. Now he can't. Guess he knows how we feel now, huh?

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented. 

Who can't? Well, maybe Native Americans... But when was the last time you saw images of people who couldn't afford a fancy new car, who were wearing hand me down clothes, who had to scrimp and save just to pay for their kids to eat... No one is advertising to us, because we can't afford what they are selling. 

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. 

Thanks to major progress in the education system, that is true for most races. But let me ask you this, when was the last time your race was demonized for the way they "conquered" and "subverted" other races to achieve this society? Columbus used to be praised, now he is villianized. He couldn't have known what the rest of the Europeans were going to do when he came here!

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race. 

See 7. My son's are mixed Native American and White, but with so much white that it is "a moot point" on stats. My "whitest looking and acting" child is so quick to tell people that he is 1/16th Native American.... because he is constantly treated differently, simply because he looks white.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

But I couldn't find a publisher for my works. I chose to self-publish, but can't afford to market my books. I work my butt off trying to utilize free opportunities, but so is every other starving artist. Yet people with money can publish a book in a heartbeat. They will even get a "real" publisher if they have an ounce of notoriety. Most of them don't even write their own books, they hire starving ghost writers who will take the measly payout without credit because they gotta eat. 

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race. 

None of us can claim this. Having taken plenty of minority classes where I was one of only a few white people in the room, I can attest that when I expressed my opinions about balance, it was chalked up to "white privilege" and quite vocally so.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race. 

See number 10. Racism DOES swing both ways. And don't call it something else (reverse-racism) to make it seem ok. My family is not racist. We have taught tolerance and cultural understanding and respect, yet my "white" son has some really "racist" attitudes sometimes. Can I call that reverse-racism? He was taught to be mistrustful of other people because of the way they treated him. It is still racism. No religion says to treat others the way they treat you. No, we are supposed to treat others the way we want to be treated. It is why Martin Luther King is held to almost saint-like status, and the black panthers are labeled as criminals. I get that it is hard (my son is living proof) not to treat all people of a certain ethnicity the way that many have treated you. It is hard not to think that every white person is a racist when at every turn you see evidence of it in the media, in politics, in your own lives. But as I tell my son, if you start discriminating against all of them, because of what those kids have done to you, then you are no better than they are. Do we really want the pendulum to swing the other way? 

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair. 

Most of us can say yes to many of these.... and none of us can find someone who can cut our hair at ANY hairdresser shop we go to. But I can't afford the fancy places who can cut my hair :(  

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. 

But those credit scores will bust you EVERY TIME!

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them. 

Which is why the Anti-bullying campaign rages strong today. My eldest has been horribly bullied because he is an easy target due to issues other than his skin tone, yet he is the whitest looking of all of us. So, yeah... nope.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection. 

Nope, you don't have to because the school systems are doing it. Oh, wait, remember my son who is ashamed to be "white"?  And all these politicians and actors who are quick to point out that they are 1/4, 1/8, 1/16... blah, blah, blah! But on the economic end of it, people are poor because they choose to be. My kids can't have a phone like their friends because we are lazy and don't work hard enough. It has nothing to do with the debt we incurred because of school, or the medical bills, or the car payment. We must be spending our money in places we shouldn't. I mean, we are educated and white. How can things be so tough for us? Mind you, I am not complaining. We live within our means, no matter what the Jones' have. We are responsible and paying off our debts, rather than getting credit cards and sinking ourselves further. But our kids don't understand that. They are kids. They want what all the advertisers out there are selling. They believe that we should be better off because their parents are educated. How do we teach them this, when they are constantly bombarded with different messages? And why should we have to teach them this when they are so young? Thanks media!

16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race. 

Ah, nope, just our financial obligations to allow them to participate in field trips, after school activities, events, organizations, and all that other fun stuff!

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color. 

Yes, but they might put it down to bad manners, because we are poor.

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race. 

Yup, just bad morals and my income level.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial. 

Sure, but they will want to know how my gender affects this, oh and what college I went to.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race. 

But not my gender, and not my financial situation.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group. 

I'm never asked to speak at all. I have to fight for speaking engagements, and often my opinion or view is written off because I cannot possibly understand.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion. 

Huh? Which is why my boys got in trouble for saying "what up, my Niggah" as they had heard other kids in school say, and didn't know why they were in trouble because they have never heard the N word used in our home. We made the mistake of thinking it was better not to teach them the bad words. And that is why my eldest son gets offended about buying bread, because he got the nickname "wonderbread" in school. Why it is perfectly fine to call white people "pasty" but don't suggest that your own skin is "ashy" around black folks. (even though it happens to "white" folks and is as noticeable if they have an ounce of melanin!)

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider. 

But if you question our "Black" presidents financial policies, it is because you are racist. If you question their fiscal choices, then you must be a wealthy elitist.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race. 

But certainly not my economic status.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race. 

Nope, just the crap car I drive, or the fact that I am in debt past my eyeballs.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race. 

And they all have shiny new toys, fancy cars, and own their own home. Something the economically deprived cannot say.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared. 

Nope, can't afford to be a part of most, and feel pressure to spend money I don't have at the rest. Big nope!

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine. 

Most certainly not. I will be labelled as a racist and could very well be terminated. Now, lets rephrase the question "I can be pretty sure that an argument with a person of another race will likely lead to my view being acknowledged" and here is a problem I end up with: any time I disagree with someone based on sound and legitimate arguments, it will often get dismissed because somehow the fact that I am white negates my ability to think. If you look at the economic end of it, my poverty makes people think that I am looking for a handout. It doesn't matter that I work 60 hours a week, and my husband works overtime any opportunity he gets. It doesn't matter that we got our degrees like we were "supposed to" and that makes up the majority of our debt. It doesn't matter that our debt doesn't come from wanting to live like the Jones', but because we were told that if we got an education, jobs would be waiting for us. "You can't feed your kids? How do you have a car?" Oh, right, we need a car to get to work.... so we can feed our kids. Yeah, looking for that handout, man!

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me. 

To argue against it, even with valid points, would. Same with economics. Proposing that the minimum wage be raised so that people can support their families is just not economically sound. Rich people wouldn't be able to afford stuff. Oh, wait... all cost of goods would rise, leaving us poor folks not able to afford stuff either...

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have. 

The opposite is true nowadays. And as for the economics, well I'm just looking for a handout!

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices. 

Do I really even need to address this? How many people get slammed in the press almost daily for being ignorant of this? Now substitute "economic" for "Minority" and I definitely cannot ignore it. And what I am often being told is that my economic situation is my fault. I'm not living within my means, I am not saving for emergencies, I am not working hard enough, I am not trying hard enough to find a job. I did try hard to find a job, and planned to write on the side. But then I made this my full-time job because it was less depressing than constantly being told that I wasn't good enough in interviews. (Sorry, I believe the most memorable exact phrases were "not enough experience." "Not within our pay grade." and "unable to hire anyone at this time.")

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races. 

 If anything, white people are held to a higher standard. Hence the reason these boys could use the term "snowflake" in their video with very little repercussion, but a prominent figure can lose their career for something even vaguely racist. 

And as for economics, poor people cannot ignore the rich. We would lose our jobs. 

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race. 

Seriously? But a poor fat chick must not be that poor, now is she? and in today's media, no woman dares to be anything but skinny. "You can't afford to buy your 9 year old deodorant?" Wait, I didn't start wearing deodorant until I was 12!! And people find my directness extremely disconcerting, since I'm a woman. But hey, being poor sucks! I'm gonna talk about it! 

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking. 

I'm sure I'll get plenty of hate for this list here. If I were not white, would people think it was ok? I don't know, because the world sees me that way and I can't make them see me any other way, no matter how much I feel connected to my American Indian ancestry. I know if I wasn't poor, people would be more inclined to listen to my concerns about the poverty levels in this country.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race. 

Just my gender. Now how many jobs can I get if I can't afford a decent interview outfit? How many jobs can pass me over because when they do my background check they see how much debt I am in?  How can I afford to take a job making less than $35,000 a year (Most jobs I was applying for were between $26,000 and $30,000. Even if most school sites will tell you $35,000 to $40,000. The economy sucks, man!) when most of that will get eaten up in daycare costs, I can't afford a vehicle to get to work, and it still won't allow me to pay back my student loans... and yet I would probably take it if given half the chance. 

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones. 

Isn't this really a choice on the person? I could. Or I could ask if it is my gender.  I could also question if it is because of my economics... and that one has clear evidence to support. For example: Last week our car died, our washer broke, and both boys came home wanting to sign up for some sport at school. I was stressed, harried, and had a major deadline for work. My boys were sad and depressed because once again we could not afford something they really wanted. Clearly more money would've made a world of difference here. Would my washer still have broke if I was Asian? Would I have magically been able to get the car fixed if I were Mexican? Would my boys have been able to play the sports of their choice on a scholarship because they were black? Meh...

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally. 

Sure, and so can any other college student. It is called Career services... Fat lot of good it did us, and many of our alumni who we have kept in touch with!

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do. 

Um, we have a BLACK president. But poverty restricts that a lot more. Would you elect a homeless person for president? What about someone who didn't graduate from an Ivy League school? Hmmm....

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race. 

I can only speak for myself, but I don't typically blame that on race. But I am notoriously early everywhere I go because I have to worry about things like the car breaking down.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen. 

I know that this can sometimes still be a problem in the South. I cannot attest to other parts of the country. I do know that when I haul my kids out to a restaurant once in a blue moon, the service is limited because they saw what we drove up in, they see our "fine clothes" that are well-worn and hand me downs, and when we share.... they assume that we aren't going to tip. As a server, the worst tip I ever got was from a local minister of a prominent church of wealthy individuals. They were dressed to the nines, pulled up in a Lexus, and his wife was wearing a rock that I couldn't even fathom! Left less than 10% tip after complimenting me for the best service they had ever experienced. Was it because I was white? Oh, so were they.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me. 

Nope, but my lack of funds sure will. Oh, but if I want to sue for racial discrimination, sorry that ain't happenin'. I could probably pull off a sexual harassment suit and win.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race. 

Not in the neighborhoods I choose to live in. But if I don't participate in any activities, my socio-economic factor never gets brought up ;)  

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem. 

Ha, not really. Nor can I be sure that my economics don't play a factor. Hard to dress for success when you can't buy the latest fashion. But more than likely, no one will listen to me because I am not "pretty".

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race. 

Not where I went to school. But there were minorities studies courses out the wazoo. I loved taking them! And when was the last time we focused on men's needs in a gender studies class? But seriously, who told me that after finishing college, I might not be able to find a job? Where are there courses offered to teach you to manage being poor? Yeah....

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race. 

I think this is probably one of the places where we have seen the largest growth in the last 80 years. But at my level of financial lack of independence, I can't really afford to own it. I can still appreciate it once a month when the museum has the "free" days, and can admire snippets of writing that are offered for free. And the radio exposes me to more of it! But how many of those opportunities expose you to the socio-economically deprived without being mocked, or treated as "the unfortunates"?

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.  

My friend Megan shared this interesting article,  Things Only Pale People Will Understand, with me a couple of weeks ago. I don't have this problem, mine is that darn Indian red undertone. But lets be real, I can't afford make up. I can barely afford to feed my kids.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us. 

Note restaurant experience above... and who can afford to travel?

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household. 

Because everyone loves living next to the folks who's kids wear hand me downs and clothes that don't quite fit right, who's kids get excited about the cool video games their friends have that they could never hope to have. Who drive a clunker that makes a lot of noise when they come and go at odd hours because of all that working that they do. Who's yard is not mowed every week because they can't afford to fix the lawn mower, and who's yard is less than perfect because they don't have 20 hours a week to devote to it. Our new neighbors are a bit more sympathetic, but then we are in similar socio-economic brackets.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership. 

Is it just me, or is this question a bit racist? But from an economic standpoint, my children are constantly bombarded with programs we can't afford, fundraisers we can't participate in, pressure for us to participate in school assemblies, events and PTA's when we have so little time to spend with them as is. So, in principle, yes!

50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social. 

I can't speak for how much progress we have made on this front for race, but I can say that economically I don't. 

Going through this list, I am impressed with the progress that we have made as a country in changing a lot of these issues for people of minority. And I can't help but wonder if some of these things that minorities have issues with are not related to their skin color so much as related to their socio-economic status. How many times do they blame things on racism when it is not racism, but that is easier to blame. Because no one can question racism anymore. 

Am I saying that racism is no longer an issue, but people keep making it an issue? Certainly not. I know that racism still exists. And that sexism still exists. Judging people based on the way that they look still exists. It is a part of the way our brains process information. Do we need to let it keep doing that? Not if we want to evolve. Can we live in a world where differences are celebrated, understood, appreciated? Not until we are all willing to do our part to make that happen. 

I think it is important to keep the dialogue open. For all of us to try to see things from other people's perspective. Not just about racism, but about all of the things that make each and every one of us different. I think that we need to promote understanding and acceptance of other cultures, religions, abilities and belief systems. We need to stop looking at the world as "us versus them" and start looking at it as "us with them, and them, and them, and them." 

Is it going to be easy? No. Many of our religions teach us that those who do not believe what we believe are condemned. Our cultures teach us that to do things as others do is to deny who and what we are. Children with different abilities get labeled with disabilities. People whose brains work differently have "mental health problems". Until our major institutions stop classifying us, we will not stop classifying ourselves. The day we move past this, I think, will be the next major leap in evolution! 

What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to share in the comments below! 

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