White Privilege and me

Like many Black people, (and some people other races too,) Trayvon Martin has been weighing heavily on my mind. I have tried to write about Trayvon Martin since the tragedy happened. At first I was too angry to write. And every time I calmed down enough to write, more information about this tragedy would surface, and I would get angry again. This led me to conclude that attempting to write about the facts of this case alone was not something I could do…at least not right now.

 

So I decided to write about it indirectly, in the larger context of race relations in America. More specifically, I decided to look at this tragedy through the lens of White privilege. I decided this after coming across this You Tube video:

 

http://youtu.be/TBRwiuJ8K7w     

 

 

I commend this young lady for even attempting to consider what White privilege in American society means for her as a White person, as a White woman, and what it means for a young Black man like Trayvon Martin. It is extremely radical and revolutionary for White people in America to acknowledge, much less really consider the bonuses they get because they are White. Most White people will insist that White privilege does not exist, or not to the extent others insist that it does. But without examining White privilege honestly, it is impossible to truly know how extremely unfair, unjust, unethical, immoral and even dangerous and deadly American society can be when it comes to race. Without examining White privilege, as a nation we can never have a genuine dialogue and discussion about race. We will never progress behind the outward trappings of a “post racial society” will never take place. Worst of all, we will never know how White privilege affects tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s murder.

 

Most White American people will say that they don’t benefit by being White. A few others might concede that even if they do in small ways, it is certainly not to the extent Black people think. (I remember once on “In Living Color” seeing a skit where a group of people were on a public bus, including one Black man. When he got off the bus, a disco ball fell from the ceiling, music began playing, and waitresses began passing around food and drinks, as if it were a ritzy nightclub.) When I attempt to talk to them about the topic, I am almost always immediately and totally shut down. They explain to me that they aren’t rich, that they must work as hard as any slave to get and keep what they have, not that they ever personally owned slaves mind you. (Well gee…thanks?) Some will even tell me their families never owned slaves. Some tell me they grew up as poor as any Black family. Some tell me how they had very little or nothing growing up. Some tell me how they struggled and that by the sheer force of their wills, much hard work, a bit of luck, and an opportunity or two that they managed to create for themselves, they made a damn decent life for themselves, that even includes a Black friend or two. (And again, thanks?) They grew up in Black neighborhoods, or near them in some cases. They eat at Popeye’s and love collard greens. They don’t “see color” (my personal favorite.) Their open hearts, minds and experiences make them feel they’ve earned an all access platinum ghetto pass. They tell you they have never benefitted in any significant way by being White. This automatically proves that being Black cannot possibly be an automatic detriment in these days and times. If Black people would just get up off their collective asses, stop listening to Li’l Wayne and selling drugs, maybe they would get somewhere, individually and collectively. White privilege is not a factor at all.

 

Bullshit. White privilege is so prevalent and powerful in this country, you don’t actually have to be White to benefit from it. You can make it work for you if you’re “like White” – more specifically, if you are like what White people perceive “White” to be. How do I know? Because I’ve benefitted from White Privilege in my life and I’m NOT White. But I’m light-skinned…VERY light skinned. And even as a light skinned person who has in some circumstances appeared White, I got the benefit of White privilege.

 

I was born to a very light skinned straight haired Black man. He could “pass” for White, as they used to say in those days. But his skin color was invaluable to him. He knew it was an advantage. In fact, to make sure his skin color would be as advantageous as possible, he made a point of learning to be as well-spoken and articulate as he could possibly be. Now please understand me; I’m not saying that he should not have been as well-spoken and as articulate as he wanted to be, BUT he made sure he was because he knew that with light skin, straight hair, and a “White” demeanor, he would get farther in life. He didn’t have to be White, and couldn’t be, but if he could take on as White of an appearance as possible, he could accomplish more. And he did. He never had to work in the coal mines growing up, which was the fate of nearly all the men who grew up in his community. He got better jobs in his community, because the White men that ran it were more comfortable with him. One of them even commented (within his hearing) that my dad “really missed out” when he wasn’t born White. And every time my dad told that story to me, though it had happened decades ago when he told it, you could still hear the pain in his voice. And all throughout his life, the White men he came in contact with gave him better opportunities than the more “obviously” Black men around him. And they made no bones about it, about the fact that they chose him because he “blended in more”, and wasn’t just a “regular nigger”. In fact, at one time my dad was trying to get a home in a nicer neighborhood than the one we lived in at the time. He knew a White man who was renting a home in the area he had his eye on, and he inquired about renting the home. My dad’s income was more than adequate to afford the home, but the White man said to my dad “Walt, I don’t have a problem with you or your family at all. You all seem very nice. I wouldn’t mind. But what about your friends, or the rest of your family? What would happen when they started coming around?”

 

But that was “back in the day” you say, when racial prejudice was blatantly alive and well. Let’s fast forward to say, late 20th century, when me, a very light skinned girl was born to this very light skinned Black man. With a bit of care my parents kept my hair bone straight, and of course they brought me up to be as knowledgeable and well-spoken and articulate as they were. So by the time I was 18, I was rather racially ambiguous as far as my appearance went. I might have been any number of ethnicities, but I didn’t appear Black to the untrained eye. (What does that mean? Black people ALWAYS knew I was Black. No one else was ever quite sure.) And I went to a White university, and moved into a dorm room with a young White girl who never knew I was Black until my Black boyfriend came to campus and she inquired about how my parents felt about me dating a Black guy, and how her parents would “totally freak out”. Once she discovered I was Black, our friendship ended. Up until then we had been thick as thieves, sharing clothing, makeup, secrets, everything. But because I was Black and had “lied” to her about it, I was persona non grata. And she told all of our mutual White friends and acquaintances on campus, and they ostracized me as well. I went home for Thanksgiving and never went back. I did not tell my parents why.

 

When I went into the job market as an adult, I noticed that I was often the first or only person of color in the places where I worked. The other Black people employed there tended to be in positions below mine, and they always expressed surprise and shock to see me there at first. Once they got to know me a bit, they’d say something to the effect of “well I guess you fit in around here”. And once I got comfortable enough in my position to ask my co-workers and bosses about my hiring and how it came about, I was always told the same thing…that I “fit in”. In some cases I stayed with the employer long enough to be involved in the hiring process of other employees, and when discussions about Black applicants came up, there was always conversation about whether the Black applicant would “fit in”, or “be comfortable” or if they would “create diversity”. There was discussion about how the Black applicant might impact the “culture of the institution”, both positively and negatively. None of these discussions ever took place regarding the White applicants. Ever. Not even once. And this was the case even when the Black applicant had impeccable qualifications and stellar references that were at least equal to mine, and the White applicant did not. Once I even asked if this kind of discussion took place when I was hired, and was basically told “well, no. We didn’t need to do that with you. We could tell you were going to fit right in.” My point is that my light skin and “White” demeanor was easier for my co-workers and supervisors to deal with. I am clearly the “house knee-grow”, the massa’s bastard daughter, the quadroon, octoroon, mulatto. And bastard I may be, I still can be afforded some of the privileges that come with the massa’s house.

 

And this isn’t just something light skinned Black people do. Pretty much every Black person who has ever had a “good” job has had to learn to speak extreme “White” in their workplaces. And this isn’t even because necessarily how we speak when not in the workplace is totally intelligible gibberish or would automatically be unacceptable. But realistically, we know that any mistakes in our speech, any slang or vernacular that we might employ in our communication (no matter how appropriate or socially acceptable), anything other than “the King’s English” will be looked upon more harshly than if we were not Black, so we are extra careful with our workplace grammar. Hell, I used to even wear a wig over my huge Afro to keep a part-time temporary assignment I desperately needed. I knew my natural hair would be a problem in this place, and me being broke was more important than me being nappy. The point is that Black people understand the value of White privilege, and we all do what we can, to the extent that we can, to find ways to make it work for us. It so happens that because of my skin complexion, it is easier for me than it is for darker skinned Blacks.

 

As far as dealing with Black men goes, there is always a group of Black men who preferred light skinned Black women for various reasons. They were more “exotic” looking, or “interesting”, or…well, all kinds of stupid stuff like that. Needless to say a number of these men always found me attractive because of these preferences, so I always got to hear the ignorance first hand, about how “redbones” (light skinned Black women) are this and other shades of women of color are that. I’ve heard everything from “redbones are freakier” to “dark sistas got bad attitudes” and every type of insanity in between.  I hear I’m more likely to be selected to be a video hoe because I’m light skinned (yay me?), that Black men will prefer me because of my complexion, and I’ve even heard that they will treat me better as well. And the grief I get from other women who have color complexion issues is almost as bad. And this is not just an issue in this country – almost anywhere in the world that you travel to where you have people of color in varying shades, inevitably the hierarchy of light skin being the preference, of being at the top of the hierarchy occurs. Hell, even dark skinned Italians catch hell in their group sometimes.

 

This is how powerful White privilege is.

 

White privilege is in part why Trayvon Martin died. Though many have pointed out that George Zimmerman wasn’t “White” in the “purest” sense of the word; he was at least partly of Hispanic or Latino descent, the fact is that he was operating out of the White privilege mindset he had. He felt he had every right, because Trayvon Martin had the audacity to be Black and in “his” neighborhood to accost him (regardless of what law enforcement officials instructed him to do), interrogate him, and take the law into his own hands to whatever extent he wished. Zimmerman was “White”, this young man was Black, which meant he was trouble and meant that Zimmerman had no need to act rationally, humanely, or even within the limits of the law. Because Blacks aren’t human; if they were they would be able to work hard enough on their own to create “Black privilege” for themselves. Right?

 

I’m gonna go pick out my ‘fro. Peace!

 

 

 

 

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Is it misogyny — or maybe they just don’t like me?

mi·sog·y·ny:  noun \mə-ˈsä-jə-nē\: a hatred of women

— miso·gy·nic \ˌmi-sə-ˈji-nik, -ˈgī-\ adjective

— mi·sog·y·nist \mə-ˈsä-jə-nist\ noun or adjective

— mi·sog·y·nis·tic \mə-ˌsä-jə-ˈnis-tik\ adjective

 

Origin of MISOGYNY

Greek misogynia, from misein to hate + gynē woman —

 

 Are all the men I know misogynistic? Or do they  just dislike me?

Some of the recent events in my life in relation to the opposite sex have me asking this question…do men just instinctually hate women? It is something that has crossed my mind from time to time, but of late I’ve been considering it even more. After having a bunch of discussions will a bunch of different men on a variety of topics, I think I’m starting to conclude that all men are, to some extent, misogynistic. This worries me a lot. A lot of my good friends are men. It would clearly be difficult for us to continue to be friends if I felt that my gender was something they had an issue with. But as I talk to these men, and really listen to and examine the things they say to me, I have to wonder if they really are misogynists.

 

A great deal of my male friends’ comfort in being friends with me seems to be based in the belief that I am “not like other women” or “not really a woman” or “not like most women”. One of my male friends even refers to me as a “man with titties”. The things that make me unlike women go beyond my fondness for football and boxing. What’s worse, they seem to be based in negative beliefs they have about women. These men feel that I am not like other women because I am “logical”, “rational” and “not overly emotional”. I am not like other women because I can be “reasoned with”, because I “think”, because I “listen”, and because I don’t “talk all the time” or “ask too many questions”. I am not like other women because I openly, unashamedly enjoy and appreciate sex in a healthy way, which, according to them, women just don’t do. And I don’t even have a gang of female friends that I run around with, filling my head with untrue foolishness and negativity about men. According to these men, the qualities I have are not ones that women typically possess, and the fact that I have somehow managed to be this way in spite of my vagina is shocking and amazing, and makes me friend-worthy. I am also unlike most women because I am “smart”, “intelligent”, and “business savvy”. And while I appreciate the compliments, (Are they still compliments at this point?) I can’t help feeling badly because these qualities make me less female, and more male to them. And if I were more “typically female”, my male friends would be less comfortable with me and would like me less. Maybe we wouldn’t even be friends. It makes me feel like I’m not a “real” woman because of who I am as a person. And what if I did become “illogical”, “irrational”, “overly emotional”? What if I became “dumb”, “unintelligent”, and “lacked business savvy”? Would that make me a man? Or would that just make me a woman they couldn’t be friends with?

 

Usually when my male friends see me exhibiting what they consider “female” behaviors, they comment on how out of the ordinary it is for me. If I am emotional, they say things like “wow, you ARE a girl” or “damn Tula, I had no idea that was in you!” Recently I was sitting in a bar with a close male friend lamenting the state of my romantic life recently, and he said “wow Tula, I think this is the first time I really get that you are a woman.” He seemed lost and confused. He even said “wow…I don’t know what to say Tula! You’re a woman!” What da hell??

 

So this leads me back to my question – “do men hate women?” More specifically, do men hate what they perceive to be the prevalent qualities in women, which seem to be a tendency towards excessive emotionality (even when it’s not appropriate or necessary), stupidity, talkativeness, and an inability to listen? Do my male friends like me because I’m like them, not because I’m me? And though I’m always reminding them that yes, I am a woman, just as emotional, just as full of feeling, just as capable of being foolish, and stupid, and nonsensical, they never seem to believe me, UNTIL they see it for themselves, or EVEN WORSE, they experience it in a way that is detrimental to them. And then they seem to get angry because…OH MY GOD…I’m a woman! How dare I go around acting all masculine all that time, quoting football stats and voluntarily watching ESPN when all the time I was just making the men lower their guard so I could…BAM…like, have cramps right in the middle of the playoff game or something!

 

HOW DARE I BE A WOMAN!

 

How dare I cry! How dare I ask men the hard questions and expect honest answers! How dare I tell a man he has hurt me! How dare I be anything more than a pleasing, comforting place for him to beat his chest and roar! How dare I be more than someone to eat hot wings and drink beer with! How dare I be more than he wanted me to be, than he was comfortable with me being!

 

HOW DARE I BE A WOMAN! HOW DARE I BE MYSELF, even if that meant SEEMING LIKE A MAN SOMETIMES!

 

How long will men insist that women must exist in these little boxes that they can deal with, and have the nerve to get an attitude when all of who you are as a woman does not fit? The “slut” box? The “good girl” box? The “friend” box? The “homegirl” box? On a slow day I am all of those things to those I am close to. How long will I have to explain to some man that if he is basing his comfort with who I am on the fact that I am “not like a woman”, maybe he should consider that maybe he doesn’t really like women.

 

Or if nothing else, maybe he doesn’t really like me.