Last week in my Psychology of African Americans class, a student presented a PowerPoint on the latest book she had read: The Help. When I saw the movie this summer, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a White woman speaking on behalf of Black women—which is ironic as White women have been a source of oppression to Black women. In blog post by Miss Caldonia—which was written on the blog “The Ladner Report”—the author expresses similar sentiment. She writes about her experience as being a maid to a White woman, Jo Lee, and describes being asked to perform disgusting tasks, such as cleaning the period stain out of her underwear. Miss Caldonia writes, “There is nothing glorious about cleaning up after dirty people and nothing like being exploited by people who don’t give a damn about you…can you imagine Jo Lee writing a book about me, my feelings, dreams, thoughts, aspirations and goals? Can you imagine Jo Lee being able to step out of her role of racial superiority long enough to give voice to me and my family? (Caldonia, 2011). The author certainly has a point, but why is it that the story glorifies the exploited work of Black women? Why was there such frenzy around this book? Was it White guilt, or something else?
In light of the delayed Trayvon Martin coverage this week, Fox News caster Geraldo Rivera excused the actions of Zimmerman because of the hoodie Martin was wearing. Not only was Rivera blaming the victim, but he used a cultural frame to dismiss this grave injustice. It wasn’t just Rivera that has expressed this sentiment; this week when I was expressing my frustration and anger about the case, a friend of mine said, “I understand that it is wrong, but I can understand why he looked suspicious.” I looked at her and explained that it was problematic to assume that a young boy, who was wearing a hoodie—which plenty of white boys wear—could be looked at as suspicious because he was standing, while being Black. I explained to her how the fact that we look at Black males and immediately think of violence is problematic in of itself.
When Connie posed the question: What do you do with your white privilege? I thought about this question while reading Rothenberg’s White Privilege (2008); Rothenberg states the first steps after understanding how white privilege manifests is to “take the first steps to dismantle it on both a personal and institutional level.” While she emphasizes that all individuals experience white privilege differently by vocalizing these unique experiences with one another, we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of white privilege. Although Rosenberg gives no exact instructions on how to deal with white privilege, she makes it clear that whites have the ability to choose how we “spend”—as Connie explained— this privilege.
Over break I went to my roommate Alex’s house for the week. One night, Alex and I were watching TV and stumbled upon MTV’s show, The Real World Road Rules Challenge. About five minutes in, we witnessed two cast mates attempting to “poke fun” at their friends’ interracial relationship by using black face, which they did by covering their faces with nutella. While the two of us stared at each other in disbelief, her mom asked us why that was inappropriate, “black people make fun of white people all the time and no one points the finger at them.”
During a discussion about social identity theory, someone asked how race functioned as an identity. Social belief structure is defined by Hogg as, “people’s beliefs about the nature of intergroup relations and their assessment of the validity and effectiveness of different strategies to achieve or maintain positive intergroup distinctiveness,” meaning there is an emphasis on maintaining a group identity that is distinct from other groups, creating a clear “us” “them” dynamic. The five components of social identity theory—group’s social status, stability, legitimacy, permeability, and achievability—are all crucial in maintaining the structures of race and racism.
At the start of the colorblindness talk last Tuesday, the audience was asked to define colorblindness in laymen’s terms. I was ready to recite the textbook definitions I’d learned in previous classes, but I realized I was having trouble defining colorblindness in simple and relatable terms. I think this automatic pause speaks to the nature of colorblindness; it’s as detrimental as “classic” racism, but its insidious nature makes it more difficult to confront.
Through a hypothetical situation, which takes place in a classroom, colorblindness was explained as an ideology that challenges racism by ignoring it. The situation illustrates how individuals at an early age begin to see obvious differences between individuals of different races and instead of acknowledging and appreciating these differences, they are not only told to ignore these differences, but conditioned to believe that seeing these differences makes us racist.