Tag Archives: White privilege

It’s the rest of the white people…

“I am a racist because sometimes I think I am not and that it is the rest of the white people, not me ….. who need to do the work.”

An excellent piece written by a friend at church, who is in this struggle with me:   http://www.lakeschooling.com/2013/07/i-am-not-trayvon-i-am-racist.html

Thanks PF!

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Baby, I’m a White girl…

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.

A group of us from the dorm at a college football game.  Virlinda is in the front row, on the left.

A group of us from the dorm at a college football game. Virlinda is in the front row, on the left.

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Driving Miss Donna….

Suddenly this image was all I could think of...

Suddenly this image was all I could think of…

I’ve traveled for work the past two weeks, and am jet lagged and tired. This morning was me in slow motion: unmotivated to go to work, dreading the commute on the train.  I opted to hail a cab, convincing myself that it was a treat well earned–that I’d been working hard and deserved such a luxury.  It took less than 2 minutes to hail a cab.

As I settled into the back seat, I was relieved to see that this cab had a barrier wall between me and the driver: a padded lower portion keeps my knees from bumping the seat ahead of me; whilst a Plexiglas upper portion allows me to see, but prohibits easy conversation.  Again, I was tired.  I rambled off the address to my office building without even a glance towards the front seat and situated my purse and computer bag. I like to know where everything is, so my phone is handy, and so I’m less likely to forget a bag and leave it in the car when I make my exit. I really didn’t pay attention until the driver repeated the address back to me, and said “Is that right, ma’am?”

I cringed.  “Ma’am” is usually a moniker bestowed upon me by a twenty-something. I thought about my graying hair and sighed.  Then looking up, realized that the polite driver was an elderly Black man.  “Yes, thank you, sir.” I mumbled, embarrassed.  And something made me glance at his hands: white gloves.  My elderly Black cab driver was wearing black dress pants, a starched white shirt and collar, and yes… white driving gloves.  He suddenly had my full attention.  And the irony of the past week with the George Zimmerman trial came sweeping over me.  All I could think about was that scene from “Driving Miss Daisy”.  AUGH.  I was the privileged white woman being chauffeured around by a Black man!

Classical music streamed through the cab, along with the chilly draft from the air conditioner. Gosh, it is cold in this cab, I thought.  Oh! That’s why he’s wearing the gloves!  He’s got the air turned on high for me, and he’s suffering in the front seat.  I leaned forward and said “Are your hands cold? Is that why you are wearing gloves?  Because you can turn the air conditioner off if you’d like. I’ll be fine.”  Somehow my comment felt benevolent to me.  I was being gracious.  “No ma’am,” he said. “I like the air conditioner. I wear these gloves because my hands hurt on the steering wheel.  Friction or something.  At the end of the day, my hands just ache if I don’t wear them.”  Gosh, Donna.  It isn’t about you. Get over yourself. 

Gratefully he heard my comments as concern for him, and he opened up.  It seems he’s originally from Nigeria. “I am a wealthy man, you see,” he said. “I live in the U.S. for 6 months, and then at my home in Nigeria for 6 months.”  He pulled out a packet of photos he had on the seat next to him.  “I own 5 acres and have it all walled in.  My home is in there. I have 8 bedrooms, and each has its own running water.  I have my garden there, and my cattle.  Everything I need is there.” He laughs heartily. “I play classical piano.” He nods towards the radio.  “My children all like that hip hop music” but he says that his music has “endurance.”  “My composers are 300-400 years old and they are still being played on the radio.  Theirs will be gone in 3 or 4 years.”

His story begins to unfold: “I became a captain in the Nigerian army on October 1, 1960–the day Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom. I am a man of discipline, and it has served me well. I have married, have achieved a Ph.D. in Chemistry, taught as professor, and raised  4 children.  And as of May 2002 my youngest child finished college.  Now I am a wealthy man. I sit in my car, in the air conditioning all day, listening to classical music, and people put money in my pocket to drive them around.  This is not work.  I am a wealthy man. I love life. Life is beautiful.”

This amazing 85 year old man dressed with dignity because it was befitting to him.  Not, as I imagined in my narrow perspective, to fulfill the role or stereotype of ‘servant’.

I have much to learn.

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Wanna know how ignorant white privilege looks?

Yes. This is what White privilege looks like.  For real.

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