I work at a gas station and last night I was training the new girl. We're both white, she's early-thirties, I'm 24. A black guy walks in, big t-shirt, saggy shorts, dreads, probably just a little younger than me. He's on the phone. He says "Where da blunts at, man," and I point them out, he says "Thanks" and buys the cigars. The girl (let's call her Sarah) rings the guy up, does her thing, says "Have a nice day" even though he's still on the phone talking to his friend, and he leaves. The door closes and Sarah says, in a sort of even, not-really-irritated voice, "Well, he could be less black."
I cocked my head slightly and looked at her. I smiled and said the first thing that came to mind. "Well, maybe you could be less white, huh?"
And she kinda laughed and said "Yeah" and she was obviously embarrassed so I just kinda let it go. She's just training and I had just met her and I wasn't about to start a Big Conversation About Race right there. But it got me thinking.
A couple questions I have pondered:
1: Was what she said racist?
Sure it was. The only thing I really know about this married mother of one is that she works in a factory, so she probably at least works around black and brown people there. she's going to school full-time and she needs some side money and that's why she's working at the gas station. I don't get the vibe that she gets off on white supremacy. I don't think she would consider herself a racist. This is Wisconsin, by the way.
But saying that a black person should be less black.... What the hell is that supposed to mean anyway? That they should be more white, like you? However she meant it, I believe it was a racist comment. Which means question two is....
2: Why did she say it?
She said it because that particular young black man was dressing and speaking like a Young Urban Black Male as shown on TV. Often sporting accessories like huge baggy sports T-shirts and baggy shorts down to their knees, maybe concealing blinged-out guns, a hostile, confrontational personality, and sometimes (if you watch a lot of TV) a willingness to kill for no real reason. After all, Everyone Knows most of the gun violence in the U.S. comes from all the killing in the ghettos, and when the pictures of it hits the news, who are the people in those neighborhoods? Black people. I saw a clip on TV of some gas station getting robbed by two black guys, and at the end when both guys are hurrying out the door, the one guy turns around and just shoots the attendant. I work in a gas station and that's scary shit.
And in their daily lives, other white people go about their lives in the city and see young black males who dress like Young Black Males walking around and they can't help but feel a tinge of apprehension about those individuals. They see young lower-class white kids too, some of them are punks and would do all the things they think those Young Black Males always do.... But they're white, so to other whites they're just little high school punk kids and nothing to worry about.
These are white people who just want to go about their daily lives without being assaulted. They were raised that everyone is the same and it doesn't matter what color people are, you can't judge people by the color of their skin. But they get scared by the news media and Cops and the plain stereotyping that accompanies everything in American consumer culture. They don't hate black people, they know black people, they work with black people, but they secretly know that most of the worst problems with crime and the decay of American culture happen on “their side.”
And unfortunately, all of their upbringing and black acquaintances and good intentions doesn't make this attitude any less racist.
But these are also white people who believe that everyone should be able to vote regardless of skin color. They do not think we should be making it harder for minorities and the poor to vote. They do not think non-whites are incapable of achieving what white people can achieve. Some of these people are Democrats. Some of them are quite liberal. Most of them would be perfectly willing to get to know a black person, even if they don't know many currently.
But being white is a touchy subject in America today. Even here. Especially here, in fact. How does it feel to know you've been fooled into clicking on another White Privilege diary?
Really, in the conversation about race in America, the only thing white people can do is apologize for being white. I feel the need to do it right now. I'm sorry. I am white. It happens. I can go mostly wherever and do mostly whatever I want without any added scrutiny from others on account of my skin color. I always try to keep it in perspective how I totally lucked out on the birth lottery.
It's an uncomfortable topic. And the fact that it's merely an "uncomfortable topic" instead of something that is truly holding me back in this or that aspect of my life is indicative of (wait for it) white privilege.
Which brings me to my point. The reason I wrote this diary is because I think of Sarah, and what she would feel if I took her to the Rec Diaries page of DKOs. She would probably feel like the plurality of White Privilege diaries were directed at her, and not without reason. She would feel upset and ashamed, she would leave, and she would never return here. And she would be henceforth very reluctant to discuss the issue of race in America with anyone who wasn't white, and that's not good.
So yes, white privilege is obviously very real. Every white person has white privilege, because they are white. Just because you have to cry in front of Matt Lauer after you get fired from your cooking show does not mean that racism is not still institutionalized within American culture. Many white people harbor prejudice towards certain minority groups even if they don't go around saying (or even thinking) "Boy I fucking hate all of the __". Paradoxically, these same white people were raised (and believe consciously) that people are all the same no matter what their skin color.
And all I'm saying is, that counts for something. There's a difference between your average white person who is uneasy around scary Young Black Males As Seen On TV, and, say, alot of Tea Partiers. Please, do not write the former group off. The idea that we will all become "colorblind" and the issue of "race" will go just go away is a clear falsehood. In my personal opinion, now more than ever before, a significant majority of white people are not "racist" but they do harbor prejudice towards minority groups whether they are conscious of it or not. These views should be firmly exposed and rebuked for what they are: in essence, racist.
Do we, as white people, deserve our upbraiding and reminders for centuries of domination and oppression that continues to this very day? Fuck yeah.
Merely consider this: There are many, many, many white people in the USA who are simply afraid to talk about race relations in this country. This is an obstacle to improving those race relations, just as much as their own prejudices are. I invite you to ponder this, as I pondered the meaning of why my co-worker said what she said.