Using White Privilege

My Guy, my Life Partner is black. My Girl, my Platonic Wife, she’s half black. I look like the quintessential Arian with my blond hair, blue eyes and high cheekbones.

What used to strike me as odd is that racism is a dominant conversation and point of interest for me – far more than it is for my partners who are both people of color. Why is this?

Because racism is something they’ve always lived with. It’s a fact of life.

I grew up in a white family, in a white neighborhood with mostly white friends. Homeschooling was a beautiful experience but it meant that I didn’t get to socialize with many people of color and my education on racism, slavery etc was from the limited worldview of my rather sheltered mom.

8 years ago my mom and I found ourselves in a little independent study on racism. This was initially instigated by us reading The Help together (long before Oprah, Emma Stone or Viola Davis discovered it). Judge if you want, but I’ll take perspective shifts wherever I can find them, including cute stories. Mom and I then read historical accounts of the civil rights movement, watched any documentary we could get our hands on, eventually taking a road trip through Memphis and Mississippi to experience some of the significant locations for ourselves.

Since then I have slowly, consistently explored the topic of racism, white privilege and what I can do to help ensure the civil rights movement lives on. And it makes sense that this conversation is louder for me than for my partners of color, because it’s newer for me than for them. Because I am on the outside, whereas they’ve been forced to be on the inside their whole lives.

Okay. So, I know I experience privilege as a white woman.

I desperately want to understand as much as I can and be an ally to people of color. Yet I’ve often been left wondering, how? And often people of color respond with, it’s not my job to teach you.

Fair enough. And. How do I learn?

This has left me to listen, a lot, to things around me, to podcasts, to books. I read a lot. I ask lots of questions and really listen to the answers. I took a road trip and spent several months of my life exploring different cultures and perspectives around racism, sexism, and politics.

Over time I will share what I learned on my road trip and about my experiences and fun stories. For now though, there is a lot swirling in my head and heart about racism and consent.

I want to share with you a series of articles written by Layla Saad. I truly appreciate that she, a woman of color, took the time to write this series. I can’t actually articulate the gratitude I feel toward her for this.

I challenge all of my white friends to read this. BUT.

Read them when you have time to really read them. Read them with an open mind, with the mindset of being open to understanding the author’s perspective as *her* truth. It may not be your truth, but that doesn’t change how true it is for her. Read them looking to be educated and gain access to a different perspective.

I don’t care who you voted for or how you identify politically. The point of this series is not to change your political leanings or to convince you to believe differently. Rather the series is a beautiful opportunity to gain access to someone else’s worldview.

I need to talk to Spiritual White Women about white supremacy – Part 1

I need to talk to Spiritual White Women about white supremacy – Part 2

At the end of Part 2 Layla offers a fantastic list of resources that I am still slowly working my way through.

As a human, I want to know that I’m doing everything I can to be sure that all humans feel respected, loved and safe. I want to live in a world where the diversity of my family is something to celebrate rather than something to hide or be afraid of.

As a white woman, I want to be sure that I use this privilege I haven’t earned to do as much good as possible. Usually through tiny little actions – like sharing this article series with my dominantly white followers in hopes of widening your perspective just a tad more.

I would love to know what you think, we can discuss in the comments here or privately via email.

I think my White Privilege is showing

For the past few weeks I’ve stayed with dear friends who I trust implicitly. I’d go just about anywhere to spend time with them and their crew. Their home is lovely, cozy and filled with things I would fill my own home with.

They currently live in Philly. Downtown Philly. The gritty part.

When they first moved here from Boston, and NYC before that, they told me that they chose Philly because of the grit. They love that it hasn’t been totally gentrified. They told me that they often feel like NYC and Boston are just doing a good job of hiding their dirty laundry, relegating it to the dark corners of the city and they wanted to live somewhere that went beyond not hiding the dirty laundry but didn’t even relate to it as dirty. Where the grit and the glory/trendy etc were all intermingled evenly throughout the city.

Now.

I like to think of myself as very open minded, non-judgemental and what not. I’ve lived through some crazy stuff, spent time in not so nice sides of town, participating in questionable and not-so-legal activities. But always in generally safe cities.  I’m disappointed to discover that the grit of Philly is making me really uncomfortable.

First, allow me to define gritty. There is, from time to time, a grocery cart full of a homeless person’s belongings parked next to my car in the morning. The local street I’m parking on is considered safe because the neighborhood drug dealer spends his days on the corner two blocks down and ensures his home turf stays safe. There’s a cop two doors down. The local businesses all have razor wire protecting their property. People walk fast, eyes forward, on a mission. OR. People meander, eyes scouring for trouble or what they should be defending themselves from.

There is trash everywhere. Broken glass everywhere. It’s common to see a syringe, used condom or hair extension on the sidewalk. There’s a scrap yard a few blocks away and the several times I’ve walked by during the day there have been people lined up here, stripping cars and breaking things down. Once a guy addressed me as I passed by as he was pulling a piece off a minivan and proclaimed ‘it’s mine, I bought this‘ in my direction. Until he spoke up it hadn’t occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t his.

The grocery store only blocks away from me, is the only store within a several mile radius that has a full produce selection. Most people go in and shop for the month. When I went in today I was behind a woman buying three carts worth of food, one cart was full of chef boyardee, koolaid and those sugar water drinks you twist the plastic top off of.

This is what I mean by gritty.

Living amidst this grit has put me on edge. While I’ve never felt unsafe, never felt I was at risk, I’ve been perpetually uncomfortable walking around.

I’m uncomfortable with the source of my discomfort.

My discomfort surprises me because I have a habit of not noticing when I’m in what My Guy calls a “windows up neighborhood”. I typically seem unaware as to when I’m in an area where my guard should be up. I have stories of being in areas of Chicago and Harlem, places I shouldn’t have been alone, and a kind stranger took it upon themself to inform, protect and lead me out of their neighborhood. I was that oblivious.

In theory, I am totally onboard with my host’s perspective. In theory, I don’t agree with gentrification. I don’t think it’s right for rich (white) people to move into a neighborhood and impose their views and preferences on the whole neighborhood. For that matter, I don’t think it’s right for the US to move into a third world country and impose their ideals on the locals either, but that’s another subject entirely.

I’m reminded of the TV show Shameless (great show, but very crass) in which ‘the gays’ moved into their rugged Chicago neighborhood and suddenly tried forcing people to clean up their yards, plan community gardens and park their cars differently. When watching the show I identified with the locals and was ashamed by the actions of my (theoretically fellow) white, gay (albeit fictional) comrades.

Yet.

Spending a few weeks in the midst of grit, well, I’m just not loving it. Part of me wishes I fit better into this world, so I could blend and be confident. I’d like to be that badass chica who’s confident walking by the local drug dealer, people stripping abandoned cars for scrap metal, to be un-phased when there’s a gun shot in the distance.

Perhaps I need to conquer the grit of Philly like I conquered the pace of NYC.

But it’s all so dirty. Everyone always seems to be on edge. Out to defend themselves, even if it means hurting me. Does it take that much more energy to be nice instead of rude? To place your trash and waste in an appropriate receptacle? To find a bathroom to do your business in? It’s like everyone’s Give-A-Fuck broke.

But then, I also get that many people (not all) who live in this neighborhood are so squarely in survival mode that they can’t even imagine a life beyond putting food on the table. That being nice could make them vulnerable, that giving a fuck would mean they could be disappointed, rejected, hurt. And who am I to say that my way of looking at life, that anitSurvival mode is any better than how they live?

Maybe?

I think this is the first self-identified example I’ve found of my white privilege showing.

I guess it seems like it all comes down to priorities. The folks who make these neighborhoods gritty, they prioritize something else (not sure what) over things like clean streets, safe neighborhoods, respectful relationships. Do they have a choice though? Can one choose when faced with homelessness, life or death situations and no awareness of a way out?

Who am I to judge people for living this way. Yet, I do.

Gah!

At the end of the day, the people who live here are just that. People. And I wish I had more access to connecting with them. Because I love connecting with humans.

I definitely think everyone should spend time in the ‘gritty’ parts of their town. Be aware of how all of the humans in your home town live, what options they have, what their daily stressors are and most importantly who lives there. Humans. Just like you. Broaden your awareness of your community. I know I’ve not done much of this in my hometown.

PS. It feels vulnerable to share this publically in the age of social media. My heart is pure. I love humans. I want to see all humans be as happy as possible, whatever that looks like for them. I don’t mean to be judgey, ignorant or part of the problem. My hope is that by sharing I’ll get others thinking and maybe even shift some perspectives and open some new dialogs….

Just be love darlin’

One of the things I love about my life are the conversations I get to have. I recently had an especially impactful chat with this amazing woman.

This is Miss CeCe, she is 84 years old and grew up in Harlem in the 30’s and 40’s. She radiates love and gives the best hugs.

Me: It was so frustrating Miss Cece, I want to help but anytime I open my mouth I’m made wrong. They’re making me wrong for being white because my ancestors made them wrong for being black. It feels like one a big unbreakable cycle. I can’t make my white privilege go away. In the meantime, I want to be an ally, what can I do?

Her: Oh honey, you have such a big heart *gives me one of those amazing hugs of hers*

Her: White people don’t need to do anything but love. Just be love darlin’, love the world. You’re right. You can’t help or change your white privilege anymore than you can change history. Just love everyone. For your generation, racism isn’t your problem. At this point racism is going to have to get fixed from the inside out and for that to happen we need lots of ‘privileged’ white people loving the world and holding space for us black folk to transform our nonsense. Just keep being love darlin’.

I am honored to friends with this wise young woman. I cannot express to you the profound honor I felt in having this conversation. Her answer has given me much to think about. There is no truth in the conversation about racism, it’s all perspective. There is no right answer.

I did recently stumble on this amazing article on how to be a white ally to marginalized communities, which I love. But in the end, continued conversation, inquiry and being love is all I can offer.

I’d love to hear about an especially meaningful conversation you’ve had recently.