I’m So Freakin’ White

I went to an eye-opening workshop the other day. It was called “Working while white: bringing critical self-awareness of whiteness to racial justice work.” It was put on by a group called European Dissent, which is “a collective of persons of European descent who recognize that our varying ethnic histories have been forged into a common White identity in order to uphold racism.” This group does a lot of anti-racist work in the Seattle area.

This workshop was designed to make it clear that we white people don’t really leave space for other cultures and other ways of being, especially in the workplace. We tend to have an internalized sense of racial superiority and rest comfortably on unearned privileges.

Okay, I confess that basically I knew all of this. But wow, I have to say I never really took a hard look at it before. Just walking into the workshop it hit me right between the eyes. All around the room were posted various white cultural norms and standards, and when reading every single solitary one, I had to say to myself, “Yep. That’s me.”

Here they are:

  • Perfectionism (As in: making a mistake is confused with being a mistake.)
  • Sense of Urgency (In me, this manifests itself in arbitrary self-imposed deadlines.)
  • Defensiveness (Does anyone like to be challenged?)
  • Quantity Over Quality (If it can’t be measured, it has no value.)
  • Worship of the Written Word (This blogger waves at you.)
  • Paternalism (I know best. Don’t worry your little head.)
  • Either/Or Thinking (You’re either right or wrong.)
  • Power Hoarding (Hey, you, get off of my cloud.)
  • Fear of Open Conflict (Oh yeah.)
  • Individualism (If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.)
  • Progress is Bigger, More (Never smaller and therefore more efficient. Oh, no.)
  • Objectivity (The belief that you can set your emotions aside and be logical.)
  • Right to Comfort (And how did I earn this right, exactly?)

Here’s what was embarrassing about this workshop. I’m 51 years old, and I never once stopped to think that all the qualities mentioned above aren’t universal. I never imagined that there might be another way of being, thinking, or doing. Talk about a right to comfort. I’ve never had to think about these things because most systems and organizations in this country think that these are the norms, too. I’ve just been able to sit back and relax and just… be white.

I’m not feeling very proud of myself at the moment.

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9 thoughts on “I’m So Freakin’ White

  1. lyn sutton

    I think you’re being too hard on your white self. Being only half white (privileged) I’ve a different perspective. Imagined how conflicted I’d be if I held my white half accountable for any racial discrimination I experience. My mother made a choice when she came to this country to adopt it’s norms and not expect it to conform to hers. I’ve been exposed to the positive aspects as well as the flaws of her culture and my white heritage. I’ve experienced racial ignorance and superiority, here and abroad, from many ethnic groups, not just white. Placing blame on one culture for what’s common in all is a half measure and addressing the negative aspects of any cultural norm should enlighten not shame. Humanity is still evolving and mistakes are part of the process. Be relieved that you can still grow, not embarrassed that you needed to, and proud that some of your best friends are… Humans. 🙂

    1. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks, Lyn. But I also want to put it out there that the cultural norms are not norms for everyone. Why should my norm be the norm. I’m only a second generation American myself. If the norms should be based on who the majority was, shouldn’t our norms be American Indian? I don’t know. Who gets to choose?

      1. lyn sutton

        I am part American Indian also but have no idea what the norms were for my specific tribal ancestors since so much was lost when the tribe was conquered by another tribe whose norms were different…which is probably why they fought. I guess every majority is made up of minorities depending on perspective.

  2. I recall my school age daughter coming home with a handout from a class that had the following header at the top of the page before a long list of examples/scenarios. “The Knapsack of Privilege.” I saved it (rather rescued it from the recycling bin some weeks later) and this post makes me want to go find it and revisit it. She can’t recall when it was that the discussion occurred in class which makes me think it either didn’t impact her much (which could concern me) or it was not a very long discussion. Either way, this post again has me thinking.

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