Friday, April 19, 2013

Oops....I Seem to Have Lost My Privilege... or My 10 Minutes of Terrorist Fame??

I don't know why this bothers me so much. Maybe it's because in my life, as spoiled of a child as I was, I have not experienced this sensation. I grew up poor but very happy and very sheltered. These days as I age I think being in the poor/lower class is exactly where I want to be. I've been middle class and it's not all it's cracked up to be. But that's another post and I think I'll write that one next. I have some down time. Why not.

I grew up (until age 11) in a very small community. We were so small that the schools were spread out between 3 towns. Mine had the middle school so I went every morning on a long bus ride to the next town over to go to elementary school. There were very few non-white people in these three towns. I think there was only one African American family. I was friends with a couple of Greek kids. The rest I'm not sure of because I was simply too young to care. I loved everyone equally the way God (or rather my very traditional Holiness Christian grandmother) had taught me to.

There is one very specific incident I will never forget. I almost never got in trouble as a kid. One day shortly after Christmas I was in school and for some reason we were not at our seats. I walked back to my seat and an African American boy who sat in front of me had his head down on the floor right at my seat. Well, I was all proud of my new boots and not looking down and I accidentally kicked him in the face. I explained this to the teacher. Was I let off the hook because I was white or because he had no reason to have his head down there anyway? Nope. I got spanked and so did he. Of course, he got spanked for laughing at me for being spanked. Neither of us was treated differently.

At 11 I moved into the city nearby to be near my mother's family. I went to a bigger school and it was very different. In fact, this was my first experience with culture shock. No longer was it okay to be myself, I had to be who effin Bobby Jo Carter wanted me to be. She was my middle school antagonist. In case you haven't figured this out about me, rather than be who she wanted me to be I did things to make her madder because I wasn't under her control. I'm evil like that.

Not only that but I was all of a sudden thrown in with various cultures I did not know how to relate to. City kids culture is much different from small town culture. Then there was the cheerleader culture, the inner city culture, etc. etc. etc. You all get my point. I did not fit in and I did not care to. I made friends and I was fine regardless. I had friends in my neighborhood that weren't in my classes anyway.

My point is this. I was not instantly accepted into anything because I was white. I wasn't adopted into a clique like the new girl in Clueless. Instead I was left to my own vices. I'm not just talking about when I was new. This continued from 6th grade through 8th grade when another new girl came (white btw) and wasn't adopted either. Well, I adopted her lol. Then her and I became friends with an interracial girl and the 3 of us were a team.

I grew up, moved around the East Coast and lived the life of a loner. I made friends here and there of course. One thing I always noticed is that I never fit in. I didn't stand out, I didn't blend. I just was. I didn't look like everyone else, I didn't dress like everyone else. I was followed through stores just like anyone else who looked like a tourist and I got some pretty evil gazes along my path.

Fast forward to now. I'm skipping my time in India because I've written about that enough. The day of the Boston bombing I was working. I sat in my car in a new neighborhood watching the same persons house for 10 hours. Hardly anyone looked my way all day long. The only person who approached me was a worker at the store where I was parked. No one else came near me, the police were not called, etc. Remember that part. I was parked in a public parking lot at a store.

The day after the bombing I went out with my husband and again we were in a new neighborhood. We parked in another public parking lot and sat there to eat the snacks we had gotten inside. We didn't get out of our car, we didn't even look at anyone. We were sitting there talking to each other. Public parking lot. I can't stress that enough.

A state trooper came by and asked who I was. I provided him my licenses and he laughed. He said they had several concerned neighbors call in about us sitting in the parking lot. The officer had assumed before coming out that I was a probation officer or PI. After seeing my license he left. Now.

The next day I went out to work again. Sat in the same neighborhood I mentioned first. This time in a different public parking lot close by. A busy lot where I could blend in more. I want you all to know I'm 5' 2" and I do not look like a gangster/thug/vagabond/hooligan, etc. I was sitting 2 blocks away from the closest house. I was sitting in my car doing nothing. Okay fine, I was playing games on my phone. But you get my point. Traffic came and went and after I had been there 2 hours a car drove up beside me and blew the horn.

I looked out the window and it was an African American man asking me if I was law enforcement. I informed him I was not and I was just doing some work. He persisted and I resisted. I'm not going to tell him my real occupation because if it's one thing I've learned it's that those who are the most suspicious of us are the ones who have something to hide. Finally he said okay and left. I watched and he drove 3 blocks, well out of my sight to get home. Which makes me wonder even more why he would think I was watching him.

About an hour later a second African American man pulled up along side my car and called out to me. This one was very friendly and so I was more forthcoming with him. We both had a little laugh and he told me "I got kids" as if to imply he was more worried I was trying to kidnap kids than anything else. He specifically mentioned the bombings and told me that's why he was concerned. He left content that I was not malicious person. (Just for the record, this neighborhood had multiple ethnicities, interracial couples, and was not an upper class neighborhood.)

Less than an hour later I had an older white man seemingly irate that I was there. He drove circles around me a few times then drove to his home about 2 blocks away and parked where he could see me. He stood in the yard and watched the car (which is all anyone could really see from that far) for several minutes. Another neighbor pulled up by him at her home and he stopped her to make a scene.

This is not normal for my job. This week was the first time anything like that had happened. I knew the bombings would create issues but geez. I certainly don't look menacing. I wasn't even near a large or crowded establishment. This simply wasn't the place a terrorist would be. Had I blown up anything, it would have only been my car because I was too far from anything to make an impact.

While I'll be the first to agree America is not the safe place it once was I have to call shenanigans on  this whole situation. I am sure somewhere out there people are treated like they're untouchable just because they're white. It hasn't happened in my lifetime but it's bound to go on somewhere or the white privilege activists wouldn't be able to keep their panties in a bunch over it. From what I've seen and the places I've been, this is not an issue in lower class neighborhoods nor is it an issue that only affects whites. I've stated that before.

In predominantly African American neighborhoods, whites are not given all these privileges either. In India I was looked down on for being white just as much as I received celebrity treatment. And honestly, if that's how life is then I'll be proud to call myself among the working poor. I don't understand this class crap anyway. I currently make 3 times the average wages for people in my area and I would be monetarily grouped as middle class but it's not where I want to be. Not if it means people can't get along with each other anymore.


  1. I think people were definitely a bit more on edge after what happened on Monday. The lady who sits in her car on my street and smokes her cigarettes hasn't been there all week. And I hate to say it, but even though it's been really cold, I've swapped my super warm and useful shawl for a less warm, less useful had because I'm concerned of people's reactions to seeing a woman with a scarf on her head, even in this rather diverse college town.

    About privilege...

    I am as outspoken about this as someone who hates conflict is able to be, as you've probably seen in other places :) I do believe in white privilege and I am a bit more aware of how it affects my life than I used to be, but that's the thing about privilege. It's generally invisible; we miss it because it's all about the things that don't happen to us rather than the ones that do.

    It's also what's called intersectional; there are different kinds of privilege. Racial, gender, class, sexuality, gender. And naturally you will notice the privilege others have because you do not have that privilege. You can see how the rich kids get away with stuff you as a poor kid did not. You can see how in Amritsar, men can come and go freely but women must plan their movement outside the house well in advance and preferably with a man present. I can't really see how I'm 'advantaged' due to being white, upper middle class, straight, and cisgender until it's pointed out to me by someone who isn't.

    And unfortunately, a lot of discussion about privilege is made in the form of conjectures, such as in the song "What If The Tea Party Was Black" - an interesting thought experiment, but it's a 'what if' situation. My in-laws weren't initally agreeable, but they came around. What if I was Muslim? or Black? Would they have agreed at all, at any time? I don't know. I can guess at it, and I'm pretty sure I know the answers, but I don't *actually* know.

    I don't think privilege is this evil thing we have to feel bad and guilty about. I think that it is just a convenient term for pointing out when something is generally, systematically unequal. And when we realize an inequality, we don't have to debase ourselves, but instead to do what we can to pull others up.

  2. Wow I'm sorry you have been treated so badly by these people. Why on earth do they think you look suspicious? People are just crazy. Since the boston bombing I haven't had anything crazy happen to me yet but I always have people yelling at me and tell me to "go back to your country", even though this is my country, I was born here and so were my parents. I definitely stand out dress in a black abaya with my face and hair covered with a black scarf and niqab. But still, just because someone looks different or not like everyone else, it's a reason to harass them or treat them badly?

  3. Honestly, I have no idea why I looked suspicious. I'm a tiny, white woman from the mountains. I had on a t-shirt and jeans. I wasn't eyeballing anyone, I wasn't holding a video camera up, etc. I was simply just sitting there and minding my own business. Well, okay and my suspects business but none of these people even lived on the same street as him lol. I really couldn't have blended in any more if I had tried. It was just so weird.

  4. I think this is one of the best explanations of privilege I've seen yet. I feel like you do, that each of us is privileged in our own way somehow. So your race, sex, age group would enjoy certain privileges in your own sect, realm, area, etc. The problem I think I have with this is that most of the things I'm hearing/seeing/reading are all angry or aggressive in tone and are very anti-white feeling and it's inappropriate. It's like these people want you to feel wrong for being white when in reality, there's nothing wrong with it. We're not the only race who's ever done something undesirable. I've also noticed some of it directed at only white Americans.

    The same people who are preaching this anti-white American agenda are the ones who will tell you not to judge an entire race/group by the actions of one bad seed. It's a double standard and that only makes me madder.

    So while I'm sure that at some time in my life I was able to walk into a store and not be harassed because I was a well-dressed white woman, my life has not been blanketed by care-free and hassle-free acceptance by everyone I meet. As a white woman I've encountered the same non-privileged issues while living and interacting in both predominantly white and non-predominantly white settings. I just can't believe that the way people preach white privilege to be a blanketed issue for all whites is not-racist in itself. It's a sort of self-hatred for those I see preaching it. To me, their "enlightening" is just as bad as the overzealous evangelical preacher who would stop at nothing to help you see the error of your ways (as in repent and be baptized for all have fell short of the glory of the Lord style).

    It's a shame you had to change your scarf but I understand your concerns. We've had some cold days here that I just didn't wear any dupatta because I thought it would stand out too much. I've also avoided a few other things that are completely American to avoid suspicious eyes as well. (AKA large purses, backpacks, etc.)

  5. I meant hat, instead of had, but I think you probably figured that out :)

    I think that critical race theory cannot be applied without some element of empathy and compassion. But people are human, and anger at being constantly, subtly mistreated all the time is a perfectly normal human emotion. I can understand why a Native American would get incredibly angry at a non-Native who wore a headdress when headdresses - and the feathers that make them - are incredibly sacred; after so much resettlement, marginalization, discrimination, why would people want to then exoticize and take the "pretty parts" of the culture? I can see why people feel like this just as I understand my own anger and frustration every time another case of rape is reported and even the politicians say "don't girls know they shouldn't be out late at night?" It's frustrating, it makes you feel less like a whole person and instead some kind of an object.

    I think that there are some whose understanding leads them to an idea that we need to have polite segregation but I think that causes more divisiveness and does not bring about healing. But at the same time that we call for unity, we also have to realize that it may not be on our terms.

  6. Another thing I failed to mention is that in general, Europeans, Americans, and other traditionally "white" cultures have indeed subjugated and debased people of color based on nothing more than their nationality and/or skin color. The repercussions of this still last today. An example is segregated housing. Even though we have Fair Housing laws, the truth of the matter is that we still have "majority white neighborhoods" and "majority black neighborhoods" because of redlining and lending policies that existed half a century ago. Change comes slow.

    It doesn't mean we need to feel guilty for things our ancestors did - that never helped further any cause. Instead, we have to just look at it, recognize that it did happen (as opposed to sweeping it under the rug or revising history so it looks like it didn't), learn from it, and try to find ways to lessen the repercussions of those acts of people long ago, and to question racist ideas that have been passed down from generation to generation.

    I personally choose not to listen to people who preach hate instead of accountability and reconciliation.