It is very easy, I’ve found, to look out and look around and see behaviors and interactions that are silently swept into the cyclical system that White supremacy has made out of our country. It is valuable as it is easy to analyze and self-educate in response to these observations. A habit equally if not more valuable to the resistance to oppressive systems, however, is the ability to look inward to analyze and learn from one’s own behavior. In practicing this, I am writing an open letter to one of my best friends from home. We’ll call him James for sake of confidentiality.
James and I grew up together – performing in many shows together all throughout high school, James was one of the very few students of color at Newtown High School and is a part of the friend circle that I keep in touch with on a regular basis. His family and mine are very close, as I’ve spent many nights at his home and him at mine. With his family’s upper class financial position, his predominantly white group of friends, interests in theatre and film, and other behaviors that (obviously) mirrored the friends he associated we (my friend group including myself) would refer to James as the “Whitest” person we knew despite being a Black teenager. This was not okay.
What I now understand that was actually occurring within this joke was the emphasis of White-defaultism in the image of intelligence and upper class. Taking that image and ascribing it onto James was both applauding this “whiteness” while also separating him from a group that experiences systematic oppression and stereotypical removal from these qualities. This excludes him from analyses of the stereotypes about his race – maintaining the schema we hold for the structures around his group. The mentality of the “White” Black friend also uses color blind ideology to separate James from his race and therefore commits a microinvalidation. This simple joke provides a strong and clear example of how implicit racism exists in our (White people’s) interactions – no matter how close and important the relationships with people of color are. This introspection is necessary to go forward and be better to continually push against the current of White supremacy. In what ways we allow ourselves to analyze our own behavior to learn from it?