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To Hide or De-Face the Homophobic

By Lydia Holt

I recently decided to hide a Facebook friend instead of de-Facing her altogether. I barely remember her from high school and don’t dislike her, but I couldn’t stand to read anymore of her hyper-religious posts. 

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Roundtable: Engaging Students as Adults

Nichole: Lucinda would love your thoughts on this one (of course, everyone else can chime in). This post is by a black female professor who tackles the question of the role of liberal arts in higher education by focusing on how/where/when does learning taking place. She cedes some of the control of the classroom to her students and makes them responsible for reflecting on what they have learned over the course of a semester. 

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Roundtable: Silence-- the Golden Opportunity to Demonize?

Nichole: Lydia hopefully you will start us off. The New York Times published an article discussing the tension between maintaining traditional religious beliefs and spiritual practices, here the Day of Silence, in the face of very modern challenges--rebuilding after terrorist actions, reconciling the "silence" of technology ("we can still SMS") with actual silence, tourism, among others. How do we make space for spiritual practice today? 

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Main | Side Dish: The Miracle That Is Beer Bread…Who Knew?! »
Monday
Jan142013

The Mundanity of White Privilege

By Lydia Holt

As a black woman living in the US, I find that it is often easier to get through my day if I ignore the everyday incidences of misogyny and racism that abound in our society. If I didn’t, I fear I would lose my mind. I’m not talking street harassment or being called “nigger.” No, nothing as overt as that. I’m talking about the small things that could be easily explained away as a misunderstanding having nothing to do with race or gender. They are subtle and unconscious behaviors.

The other day, I apparently left my blinders at home, and two incidents stuck out in my mind as perfect examples of white privilege in action. Perhaps it is a result of following so many academics and cultural critics on Facebook and Twitter.

My sister and niece were visiting Brooklyn from the wilds of central New Jersey, and we were going out to eat but first made a stop at a bookstore. There were six of us altogether including my husband and two kids. As we were leaving the store, my husband held open one of the two doors for us. My sister, niece and oldest son went through the door while I lagged behind slightly, herding my three-year-old through the doorway. Another man was also leaving the store and began opening the other door. Meanwhile, a woman was trying to get into the store. She was clearly in a hurry as she tried to push past me and my child and ended up being hit by the other door in the process. The man apologized, and she made some sort of verbal acknowledgement of his apology before continuing to squeeze by us without a look or word of excuse for her own rude behavior.

Now, usually, I would say she was just being rude and impatient and that would be true, but only partially. My husband was holding open the door, so that was clearly the path of least resistance so I can understand her desire to use that door. But, here is the thing, had I been a white woman, would she have been so quick to bum rush us to get at those books? If my husband were black, would she have more easily made the connection that he was holding the door open for me and waited those few seconds it would take for us to clear the threshold? I’m not privy to her inner thoughts, so I will never know for sure, but that is how racism works. It’s not all lynchings and Jim Crow. It’s the entitlement. Her need to go where she wanted to go trumped all else. She made the unconscious assumption that I would move out the way for her and the door was being held open for her benefit.

After dinner, we went to another restaurant for dessert. The kids bounded down the sidewalk ahead of us singing “Gangnam Style.” My sister and I walked a little behind while my husband took over herding responsibilities guiding them into the restaurant flight attendant style, one hand pointing at the open door, the other gently waving them inside. A couple that had been walking near us and were heading to the same place waited and smiled as the kids walked into the restaurant. My sister and I were a few steps behind and had to cut in front of the couple as they attempted to follow behind my husband. Of course there was no way for them to know that we were all together, but again, if we had been two white women, would they have given us the benefit of doubt and waited for us to either pass by or go inside? I don’t know. But given that my husband is white, he was with three obviously non-white children, and being trailed by two black women.... Perhaps I am expecting too much of their observational skills and over-thinking the situation, but that is precisely how all -isms and systems of oppression work, isn’t it? They, ever so subtly, put you in your place over and over again until you begin to do it to yourself. Until you begin to make excuses for the behavior.

I am sure that the woman and the couple are lovely people and would be the first to say they aren’t racist, and I am sure they even know some black people and may even call them friends (that old chestnut). But I can guarantee you that they are not at home blogging about what happened because for them, nothing happened. There were no incidences. They go about their days without ever thinking about their race and how they are being treated as a result of their race. White privilege offers you the luxury of always assuming the door is opened for you and not thinking twice about it.

Reader Comments (2)

I would never presume to tell you your experiences aren't exactly what you've relayed, so please don't take this as trying to dismiss them. I'm only offering a slightly different perspective by relating something that's happened to me before.

I think people in this country (assuming US?) *in general* feel so entitled, that it isn't even about who they're inconveniencing anymore, as long as it isn't them being inconvenienced. We have no manners, no civility, no sense of helpfulness as a culture anymore.

Now I'm white, the kind of white that gets lost in a snow storm, and yet I've experienced exactly what you did at that bookstore - well, actually... all things considered, it was even weirder.

I had gone into a specialty store looking for gluten-free bread because my nephew is gluten intolerant. I had never been in this place before, but I asked the lady at the counter and she showed me the cold case where it was kept. Easy, right? Apparently (and I hadn't noticed at the time) an older couple had come in behind me and were obviously after the same thing.

Well, I picked up a loaf of the bread, and then this older woman (maybe in her 50s or 60s?) just took the loaf right out of my hand, grabbed another from the case, and her and her husband went to the counter to pay.

I just sort of stood there like... what just happened!? Did that just happen!? Seriously? Once the couple left, the counter lady gave me the most sincere apology and was very grateful I didn't make any kind of fuss or stink over it to the couple. There was still another loaf (only one, though) and I just bought that, but it was just this sense of, OMG, are you really so rude as to literally take groceries out of someone else's hands!?

Sometimes rude is just *rude*. Not necessarily because of race or gender or anything else.

But at the same time, II can absolutely understand the "reaping the harvest" of seeds that racism planted that mean you always have to ask "is it because I'm..." instead of just accepting that people are rude without additional questions and doubts. I feel that as a woman sometimes, that question of "Is it really that or is it just because I'm a 'girl'?"

Unfortunately there's no way to know. Maybe those women you describe are absolutely racist and felt you should stand aside for them or that they shouldn't have to wait for you. Maybe they didn't even "see" your skin color and were either just plain rude or just too absorbed in what they were doing to even notice you.

Maybe that's the real difference between skin colors today? When someone is rude to me, they're just being rude, when they're rude to you, it's always a question of exactly why... and that's the real killer, isn't it? Never knowing for sure. :( I suppose that's one thing I can claim as a 'privileged'... I don't have that question nagging in the back of my head after things like that.

Well, one thing I do know, people need to be taught some freakin' manners!

" I suppose that's one thing I can claim as a 'privileged'... I don't have that question nagging in the back of my head after things like that." That is my precisely my point! Thanks for your POV.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLydia Holt

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