It happens over and over and over again.
Very nice and good white people — the kind you really wouldn’t mind having as your neighbor, the kind you could invite over for a glass of wine or to run to the mall with you — say something that might sound just a tad bit racist. They don’t mean it. And you trust that if they were to ever, say, find themselves in a situation in which they had the chance to pull someone out of a burning car, they wouldn’t ask what color that person was before they did it. They’re that kind of good.
And yet….they wrap a towel around their head and say, “Hey look! I look like a terrorist!”
Or they see a black man walking down the street, and they make sure their purse is clutched tight to their side.
Or they see a woman of Asian descent, and immediately assume she is Japanese, and compliment her on both her excellent English and those beautiful dances that Geisha do.
They also don’t give their economic class a single thought — or if they do, they think about how hard their ancestors worked for it. They don’t think about the fact they see themselves in every ad, every product they buy, every television show, and that those representations are, for the most part, overwhelmingly positive. They may not notice the subtle messaging those same media offer that denigrate people of color, that reinforce negative stereotypes.
And yet, if we happen to mention that maybe these truths might indicate a tiny little river of racism running through their ideology, holy temper tantrum, Batman, will these people throw a hissy fit. “It’s hurtful,” they’ll cry, “for you to call me a racist!”
And maybe that’s the point.
Maybe its our turn — yours, if you’re white like me, and mine — to feel a little hurt. Maybe its okay if we get a little owie every once in a while. Maybe it’s totally cool if we get a little uncomfortable so that we can learn that not everyone experiences a happy-go-lucky life, and it’s because of no other reason other than the fact that they exist in a racist society that we — you, if you’re white, and me — benefit from.
On this episode of the White on White podcast, I talk about these things with Kathy Khang, author of Raise Your Voice. You can click on the pic below to check it out, and don’t forget — you can dialogue with me, my co-host Aisha, and a bunch of other folks over in the private White on White Facebook group.