So I go to orientation for SURJ tonight and walking in I realize I should have expected a room full of white people, but I didn’t. I don’t seek out white spaces, so this is jarring to me. I don’t even realize I’m falling into my own personal social safety net when I sit down next to the clearly gay couple.
In case you don’t know me, I am white. I’m about as white as white gets. All my ancestors are from Central Europe and can be accounted for back through the 1400s last time I checked Ancestry.com. That’s where I found out I’m DAR-white, though of course I never joined. Because I’ve never felt majority-white, much less silent-majority-white. I’ve identified my own inherent otherness above everything else my entire life. Maybe this is natural for those with mentally ill parents or those who were not allowed to play with other children until they went to school. I don’t know because it’s not something that generally comes up in conversation and I’m not a social scientist. But my awareness of my internal otherness lead me to seek the company of the outwardly other and to live in places that fostered diversity. So to me sitting in a library conference room full of white people, with fluorescent lighting making us all look extra-white, discussing the values of anti-racism feels foreign.
Before I came to this meeting I was watching Dear White People on Netflix. Because I like intelligent, thought provoking television that doesn’t skirt the social tensions this country is most definitely feeling. And it is excellent entertainment.
When I drove over here I was listening to Mary J and it was such a nice cool, breezy summer day I had the windows down. And Just Fine came on, so I turned it up. And then I hit a red light and out of the corner of my eye I see this black gentleman with his headphones on look up and take me in. I am some kind of inverted stereotype and I know it and he knows it and I’m not going to not look at him because of it, so I turn and give him a big smile. And he laughs to himself.
And I don’t think about it until I get to the white people meeting, but this is my comfort zone. Living in a tranquil setting with people of color is how I like to see my world, but that’s just me not seeing all of it. Because this vision is shattered every time police shoot or kill another person who would have lived to see another day had he or she been white. White supremacy and institutional racism are the root cause of myriad social injustices against people of color, but that’s the one that reliably prevents me from seeing the world the way I want it to be. Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile were each particularly heartbreaking to absorb, but that’s what they boiled down to…people who would still be alive if they were white. It’s not particularly easy looking inward and admitting to this flawed vision, but going on doing nothing to change this terrible status quo feels impossible.
Like a lot of us, I want to see myself as one of the good ones, a white ally. But I can’t do that just by being good to the people I know, by welcoming the company of a diverse array of people. The most important thing I internalized tonight is that racism is a white problem. If I want to be a good and decent white person, I have to talk to other white people about the menaces of white supremacy and racism. I have to spend a lot more time than I would otherwise chose to in all white spaces in order to make a difference to people of color. And I didn’t see that coming.
Racism a white problem.
It’s so obvious once you hear it said out loud. So as foreign as I felt in that room tonight, I’m glad I went and heard it.