I’m going to try really hard to not break the Internet, or cause death threats to be sent to me or my family; when the talk about this subject, racism.
I saw this tonight in Twitter:
And I read the various responses that accompanied that tweet, or retweet, as the case may be. It got my wheels turning, what they said.
A white person cannot understand racism.
“A white person cannot experience racism.”
It’s true. I will never have to teach my son how to treat a police officer beyond that basic respect for law enforcement. I will have never had to experience the supposed shame of being “too dark” or being “African black” or too pale or “light skinned.” I can generally, walk around a store and not be followed by security (unless it’s a high end store, I apparently give off this wretched poor vibe that causes the sales girls noses to curl).
I do not think I could ever truly understand what people of color in The United States go through on a daily basis.
I just know what I’ve seen and experienced.
For instance, I do know what racism means.
I see varying degrees of this everyday. I experience this classifying of race because, I fall into the colors being classified. I’m not purple so, this applies to me too.
I am 1/16 Osage Native American. My father and grandfather have dark complexions, jet black hair, black eyes in the shape of almonds. I am white, when the sun hits my skin it’s like Twilight, I sparkle. If I went out with my dad in public, people thought he was an uncle, a married into the family uncle.
When I started school, my race came up for testing. “What should Katherine select?” After all, 1/16 is the bare minimum of native blood a person needs to be counted as being American Indian. However my parents were told “She looks White, she should bubble that.”
Then of course my little sister was born looking like she just popped off my father’s neck. We were always asked if she was adopted when she and I went out in public with my mother. So when the time came for her to bubble in a color, because I selected White, she, who did not look White, was forced to also select Caucasian.
That story there was the extent of my experience with racism until 4 years ago.
Yes, I’m afraid technically, I experienced racism or perhaps a better word would be prejudice because:
Yup judgements were made based on my papery whiteness.
Again I can never understand what people of color go through every day. I do have a story that is nothing compared to a lifetime of racism. It is however a different kind of “white woman leaves home and discovers it’s not all rainbows” story.
A wise educator once said more or less, you can’t just decide to turn your color off. Once you (a white student) leave the room, you cease being the victim of racism (a classroom racism experiment). She (a young black woman) is black in this room and once she leaves it. She doesn’t get the choice to turn it off. She is always going to be reminded of her color everyday. I didn’t understand that until recently.
Where I teach the whole county, Whites make up 2% of the population with Asians, Indians, and Arabs. It’s a little shy of 47% African American and 46% Native American here. (Something like that, really)
In my first interview I was asked how I would handle being White when all of my students would be black. How could I relate to parents? To students? In my ignorance I was like, “we’re all people who care about the same children, that’s all that matters.”
I didn’t get that job. But I got this other job in the same county.
My first week I was cursed at for being white, I was shoved, I was threatened. I was sexually harassed by students. I reported all of this and nothing was done. “They need to adjust.” Was one teacher’s offering.
The next week it had circulated that I was rich and volunteering to teach because as one girl put it, “all white women are rich and my momma said you can’t be working as a teacher so I don’t have to listen to you.” White people are mean. White people aren’t fair. White people play favorites. White peoples are whores.
Then there was the staff. At first there was talk of when the kids would run me off, because white people are so sensitive.
Then there was this gem of a man, let’s call him Theo. Theo decided to take time out of every day to talk to me. To tell me if my clothes were nice, if my dress fit properly, how my hair was. Only everyone he did this he started the conversation with…
I would politely correct him (“Oh my name is Katherine.”) and answer whatever question he had.
One day, I’d say, Novemberish he came up to me.
And I snapped. It had been months, he knew my name. He did. I faced him and said that my name was Katherine and that I took the time to learn his name so please take the time to learn mine.
“What does it matter, Jennifer? They’re all white names. They should do.”
I spoke to my mentor (a small feisty woman) who once hearing my story, lost it, she also being a black woman, told me I must call him “Kunta Kinte,” to his face from that point on. Which I could not at
all even fathom to do. I mean what would that do?
It was reported by her and I got a very stilted apology from him.
The year progressed along this same fashion for awhile. I distanced myself from my students and I just taught a subject.
Then it became too much. I was depressed, the disrespect was just staggering. I wanted to quit. I moved 400 miles for this?
Then one day we talked about musical roots and my example was of my mixed heritage.
I had planned to focus on the Sicilian parts of my heritage because that was the most interesting family history but they latched on to the American Indian aspect.
“Oh you are?”
“Her hair, I see it now her hair is thick.”
“Can I touch it?”
“Her eyes are kind of slanted too. White peoples eyes are always round. Hers are kinda squinty.”
“Yeah, I see it now.”
And that circulated. By February I actually stopped hearing students say my class was useless. Theo left me alone and kids wanted to know if I was going to leave. I told them I wasn’t going anywhere.
Last week, I spoke with my sixth graders about stereotyping and I said “on TV you know how almost a white people seem rich and dress a certain way?”
“Yeah they’re mean too.”
“Sometimes,” I said, “but you know I’m pretty nice, super poor and I’m white.”
“What?! No you’re not Mrs.G you’re Indian!” Yelled a very upset boy. “You can’t be.” As if I I just given my self the worst insult imaginable.
I explained I was “mixed” as they know it, and he calmed down.
It’s like demonic to be white. I tell you.
Anyway I think that yes, I am a white person who experienced prejudice based on the color of my skin. I still do to an extent.
Again it’s nothing like what others are forced to deal with. I understand that too. If I drive 1 hour in any direction, being white goes from being an evil thing to “whatever another white person.” The racism would be gone. Some people wherever they go, there is no escaping the color of their skin.
Yeah it is really dumb. No we shouldn’t judge people based on something they can’t help. Why do we, knowing this, continue to classify each other this way? Why keep such stereotypes alive? There’s no good reason and it’s not right.
But to say “All white people…” Isn’t that being racist too? Maybe I’m off the mark tonight, I don’t know.
All I can do is to teach CDubs to be better than that, to not judge anyone except on what their actions show them to be. That, and be the nicest, poorest white woman in Maxton.
(I hate Starbucks, and I’m allergic to Mayo. I don’t wear Ugs and while pumpkin spiced doughnuts are delicious, I don’t want to smell, wear, or become infused with pumpkin spice. Just saying…)