White Face

You don’t need another white woman talking about her “come to Jesus” moment with black oppression in this country, but if you’re curious, you’re welcome to keep reading.

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The LA Riots (of Rodney King fame) took place when I was 12. I remember watching the news coverage. I wrote about it in my small journal (that I still have!). I need to go dig it out. We lived 15 minutes away from the epicenter (Southern California calculates by minutes, not miles).

I remember being afraid. I thought all those black people were going to come and shoot up our house and set fire to everything. I thought this way because of the media portrayals, the language use, and the lack of exposure to black culture in every-day life. Everyone in my neighborhood was white, and I was privy to some racist conversations in various situations—never as bold as using the “N” word, but demeaning and stereotypical all the same.

I first heard about white privilege when I was in college, and it wasn’t from a class, but a blogger I followed (on LiveJournal; thanks, Katie). I felt very angry. I thought “what do I have to apologize for?” I didn’t feel privileged or special.

But those born into the privileged class are rarely aware of the water they swim in, in which they are a fish. What fish is aware of the environmental conditions that keep her alive? I have never had to worry about my white skin because this American world was created in honor of pale, sickly-looking melatonin (I mean seriously, we look like we’re cave-dwellers. Why do you think we all tan?).

Here’s a brief history: We chased out all the natives, killed them with our diseases, and then we shipped in African slave labor, adding to our already-large pool of European slave labor. We decided only white men who own property would have rights. We decided these humans of African origin would be property.

I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the current black rights movement, in the current climate, in particular about the looting and the fear of police. My default (because white privilege is still sticky on me like syrup) is to think, “they don’t need to fear the police” and “they don’t need to steal stuff in protest.” (Sorry, “they,” yes. That’s so ugly and distancing.) But this isn’t as cut-and-dry as it may seem to a set of white eyes.

I’m going to be looking more into how police forces were created to protect property—the property of white men. Including blacks. “Protecting” meant dragging them back to the plantations. It meant lynching them, if need be, to set an example. And no, not every cop is like the group of cops who beat Rodney King long after he was cuffed, like the cop who put his knee on George’s already-subdued body. But there is a history there. There is a reason why blacks are taught to run from the police and whites aren’t.

So why the looting?

Our neighbor caught my husband’s attention today to warn him about the two protests gong on today in our area. He was nervous. He said something to the effect of, “so be prepared.”

What are we to be prepared for? Not the drive-by shootings I feared as a child. Not an armed militia coming to raze our homes and take our land. We are to be prepared for protesting getting out of hand. Primarily, for protesting to turn to breaking in and stealing stuff.

White people get mad when our stuff is stolen. (All people do, but let me talk about my ethnicity right now.) White people get mad when our Targets and Walmarts are pillaged. HOW DARE THESE HOOLIGANS TAKE OUR CRAP!

But if that’s the most passionate we as white people get about ethnocentrism and systemic racism (which does exist, despite the horrible Facebook videos coming out saying otherwise), I think we need to have a conversation.

I had a white man ask me if I was ok with the looting. And I said no. But to be honest… in some ways I am. I get it. If I had been seen as property for hundreds of years, and if I were still being treated as property years later (Jim Crow, anyone? Redlining laws? Gentrification?), and I saw that white people LOVED THEIR STUFF, I may want to take some stuff and bust a few windows myself.

It’s consumer culture at its finest: our things have become more valuable than humans. African slaves cost $30,000, taking inflation into account. The average modern slave is around $45 (I’m remembering a speech given a few years ago at my college—that’s my source). We see someone carrying a $300 flat-screen tv and want to call in the National guard. Where was the national guard when ________ was being beated/raped/shot? Fill in the blank with too many black men, women, and children.

Now I DO feel for the small independent shops that are being looted. They didn’t ask to be burned. But my black brothers and sisters didn’t ask to be ripped from their homes and turned into slaves. They didn’t ask to constantly be judged by their skin tone.

I look in my mirror and see a woman.
My black sisters have to add their color to the reflection.
Women’s rights often have applied to WHITE women’s rights. But that’s another story.

I know some of my white friends, and my white family members, will disagree with me. I am also not finished in my learning process, so there is much I do not know.

 
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