Feb 20, 2008

White like me

I never learned any racial slurs growing up. Nobody in my family ever used such terms. There was a reason for it: My grandma was half English and half Irish, and never heard the end of it - from the Irish side of her family. They made "Englishman" sound like a swear word, making it extra hard for her Irish mother, who herself retaliated by being one of the biggest racists my grandma ever knew. My grandma was understanding, though, because she knew the Irish had been the victims of more discrimination than the English. She told me of signs in New York city before the war that read "Help Wanted (NINA)". NINA stood for "No Irish Need Apply".

Grandma, however, found all people interesting - no matter what their last name, social class or skin color, and no matter what her mother said. She was her mother's exact opposite in that respect. The rest of the family - on both of my parents' sides - never expressed anything negative about any group of people based on that group's characteristics.

My own experiences being singled out for bullying simply because of my nationality has made me aware of how utterly cruel and stupid such categorizing is - especially where children are concerned. And children are always involved - somewhere, somehow.

Growing up, I had a Japanese-Polish friend, a Black baby-sitter, a foreign grandpa with a thick accent, another grandfather who was the son of two immigrants, and I myself became an immigrant. Like Grandma, I find people interesting. But I've also had a privileged life. Just how privileged, was brought home to me when I read this article: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It is a good essay with a list of the unseen advantages that most white people are not even aware they have, myself included. For example:

I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

To any one the same skin color as me: You have to be heartless or very stupid if McIntosh's article doesn't make you think twice.

2 comments:

Sparkling Red said...

It's true - a lot of white people don't think twice about their built-in privilege. They/we just take it for granted. Although my skin is white, my mom always said "The Nazis wouldn't accept you as white". Scary, but at least it gave me awareness.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Although I am educated and am aware of why a civil rights movement was (and still is) necessary in the US, there were aspects of being white I had never thought of until I read McIntosh's article. In recent years, I have become more and more aware of the systemic racism that still exists in the US (and which may even be increasing); I see some of the same here in Norway. I am trying not to be part of the problem.