The First Encounter (of Many)

You never think it will happen to you, until it does.

I am biracial. I was raised more so with my Greek heritage than anything else, but the pigment in my skin lets others know that I am different. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, school, and most of my friends were white. There were micro-aggressions that I faced along the way (i.e., getting made fun of from elementary through high school for my hair), but nothing severe enough that I found myself pretending to be sick, so that I wouldn’t have to face the prejudiced bullies at school.

A few days ago, I shared an article from one of my Facebook friends on my newsfeed explaining a huge reason why white people feel the need to say “all lives matter” instead of “black lives matter.” In the article, it states the idea that the power that the dominant group has had for 400 years is threatened every time the phrase “black lives matter” is mentioned. It shares an important perspective on white fragility and the discomfort that the word “black” brings. As I was sitting in my racism class, I found a message from a close friend of mine stating that the article I had posted was, “not how it is at all.” I inquired to find out what he meant, because I was wondering how a white man my age could tell me that he knew better than me when it came to the black experience. Beverly Tatum (2007) states that, “Prejudice is a preconceived judgment or opinion, usually based on limited information.” Boy, did I experience some prejudice that day. What do you do when you’re told that, “if black people wanted to stop being profiled by the cops, they should stop committing crime… and they would have an easier time getting jobs.” Shock. Anger. Disappointment. Betrayal. What else would someone of color feel when hearing that from someone close to you? When you hear stories about your dad being pulled over and getting an attitude from a cop even though he was being polite and compliant, you want to scream. Victim-blaming statements such as the ones I heard make me feel like I’m back in the Jim Crow days.

In Steve Martinot (2007)’s article, Immigration and the Boundary of Whiteness, he discusses these invisible borders that exists based on the need for solidarity and allegiance between white people. Colorblindness helps remedy this, because it eliminates the differences between races and therefore, the treacherous history lurking beneath. I had a choice to make after hearing that the article was racist towards white people. Of course, it wasn’t racist towards white people, as POCs cannot be racist since they do not systematically benefit from doing so. We’ve all judged someone else and thought we knew better about how to handle their life, but this time, it was personal. Every time my friend would tell me that he viewed every one as equal, his well-intentioned, skewed reality got under my skin. We don’t live in a world where everyone is equal and until that is acknowledged, we cannot move forward.

Unfortunately, my story does not end there. This will not be an isolated incident, but one of many that I will continue to experience until the system changes. But I did notice a difference between my friend and I in our conversation. He recounted to me that he was raised with the idea that if you work hard, you’ll get where you need to be. He didn’t understand that what he said shown a spotlight on his white privilege. He would never have to worry, like I do, if I got into my school, because I worked extremely hard all my life or because I am a statistic. So, is this a problem within white families who do not share with their children that they do have certain privileges and opportunities that POCs do not have or is it not their responsibility at all?

3 thoughts on “The First Encounter (of Many)”

  1. The fact that you had to deal with this situation is unfortunate, but you were skilled to handle a comment such as his. In response to your question, I think that a main characteristic of White privilege is that it affords the White person to not have to think about how their comments might have racial implications. They are privileged to not have to speak to police officers in an overly polite and passive way in fear of being misunderstood. It might be that White parents do not teach their children about the oppression of people of color because they do not experience it firsthand. I was taught by my parents to treat everyone with the same respect in a way similar to colorblind ideology, which we have recently discussed how problematic this can be. I think it is the responsibility of all parents to teach their children about power and privilege, but this would assume that they are aware of its existence. If children were made aware to check their privilege in social situations, then maybe this comment would not have been made.

  2. This friend of yours definitely seems to have instilled in him a just-world hypothesis, which may be due to either 1) a lack of education and exposure, or 2) his need to buffer/ease cognitive dissonance that he may have about the fact that he does know bad things can still happen to good people, including POCs who work just as hard if not harder than White Americans. I tend to find this among a lot of my friends as well, and trying to explain to them why that’s not the case can be very frustrating. I think you raise a good question, and I think a good White ally should definitely address that in conversations with their kids. I hope in your conversation with him you were able to shed some light with some of what we’ve learned in class as to why what he said was problematic, and even if it didn’t totally get through to him the exposure to accurate information is at least a good jumping off point.

  3. I remember the article that you’re describing from Facebook because I think I shared the same one, which I felt like pretty accurately and concisely reflected what we’ve learned in class so far. I think your friend’s perceptions are symbolic of the larger issue of belief in meritocracy in our country despite large systemic inequality. I also think it was really admirable of you to have such an open and honest conversation with your friend, particularly because, due to your identity, these are not only academic issues but personal experiences for you as well.

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