White Privilege — THE REMIX

In light of all the insanity that has been going on in our world lately, I’ve been trying to find some common denominator in everything. Guess what one element I found to be present in all of these recent events?

PAULA DEEN george zimmerman RACHEL dark girls header

The common denominator is that to some extent they all touch on the topic of race in American society. More specifically, they all speak to the concept of “White privilege”. This is the concept that because one is “White” — whether by ethnicity or because one seems to be what American society considers White as measured by things like demeanor, patterns of speech, attitudes, etc., one has at least a marginally better time of things.

I wrote a piece about White privilege last year when Trevon Martin was first killed. You can read the whole thing here. As I attempted to write about all these things swirling in my mind tonight, it suddenly occurred to me that I had written about many of them in that blog. So I’m pulling from it to present to you today.

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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. 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 ever did 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 have earned an all access platinum ghetto pass. This also automatically proves that being Black cannot possibly 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.

BALTIMOIRE POLICE

Black people’s involvement with the destruction of our communities is always cited as one of the reasons why we aren’t in better shape as a people.

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.

ME AT MY 34TH BIRTHDAY PARTY

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?”

DAD IN HAWAIIMy dad in Hawaii.  (Now you know where I get it from.)

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 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. Other races were often unsure, or thought I was “mixed”.)

ME SENIOR PORTRAIT

Me, senior portrait.

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.

TULA 1990 CROPPEDMe, age 22.

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.

me jerri jada working at eoutletsMe and some of my co-workers at an old job. There were 5 black employees — four women, one man. Three of the women worked in Marketing, one other woman worked as an Account Manager.  The young man who worked in IT. There were a total of about 80 employees (including those onsite and who worked remotely from other locations.)

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.

love redbones

Really??

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 isn’t “White” in the “purest” sense of the word, (he is at least partly of Hispanic or Latino descent,) the fact is that he was operating out of the White privilege mindset. 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 the authorities 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. This is okay because people of color are less than human; if they were, they would be able to work hard enough on their own to somehow create “Black privilege” for themselves. Right?

I’m gonna go pick out my ‘fro. Peace!

TULA BLACK AND WHITE HEAD SHOT

Me, today (more or less. I really need to get more sleep.)

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