I struggled with race when we first moved back to the States from Papua New Guinea. I naively didn’t think it was so much a Black/White thing (although it certainly was), as the fact that I kept expecting African-Americans to be culturally the same as my dark-skinned friends from New Guinea. I was constantly imposing a set of expectations and social ‘rules’ on African-Americans which simply weren’t theirs to keep. It caused frequent ruptures and misunderstandings. My particular form of latent racism came with a certain brand of colonialism (borne from life as a White missionary child in a Black country).
I was gifted my freshman year of college by finding myself living on a floor in the dormitory which was predominantly African-American. My cultural expectations were quickly exposed, and quickly addressed. Those girls would not tolerate my racism. And I’m better for it.
Virlinda (also known as ‘Vi’ (pronounced VEE)) was all over my case. Any time I said something which exposed my privilege, she’d not let me linger in oblivion, but would interrupt, getting up in my face and demand, “Say ‘Baby, I’m a White girl.'” At first I’d just stand there, staring dumbly. She would get more animated and more obnoxious. “Say ‘Baby, I’m a White girl.'” The line got repeated ad nauseum until I would finally give in and repeat aloud “Baby, I’m a White girl.” Then she’d grin real big and continue on with whatever we were doing.
It came so frequently I began to dream it: “Say ‘Baby, I’m a White girl.'”
It became my mantra for the year: “Baby, I’m a White girl.” Virlinda wouldn’t let me lose site of the privilege I brought to each and every discussion, each and every interaction, each and every transaction. For a period of time I hated her. Then I loved her.
What an education! Thank you, Vi.
Baby, I’m a White girl.