Being white is awesome, so how could we be racist? (column)
Updated: 05/13/2013 07:55:56 AM EDT
Being white is pretty awesome. Don’t get me wrong, if I were a white male instead of a white woman, my life would be even more awesome, but being a white female is still powerful.
Being white is an unearned privilege; I did absolutely nothing to get the white skin I have. Yet my white skin gives me power and credibility. I am not just a member of the club; I am a member of THE club.
And the best part is that I don’t have to show a membership card; the color of my skin is my membership card, which is very convenient. It frees up my hands to send text messages and post to Facebook on my iPhone 5.
Why is being white so powerful? It probably has something to do with the whole slavery thing. Yeah, I said it. Slavery. Why can’t blacks just get over it, right? I mean it was such a long time ago. And the minute that slavery was declared unconstitutional, former slave owners and former slaves had a great big party, where the former slaves invited their former owners over for dinner in the houses that the former slaves owned. Oh wait, that doesn’t sound right . . .
Whites don’t like to talk about slavery because we think blacks blame us for it. Unless you actually owned slaves, and I’m pretty sure that you haven’t, no one is blaming you for slavery. However, if you turn away from the racism that still exists today as a result of slavery; if you promote that racism; if you argue that it does not exist, you should absolutely feel guilty, because you are guilty — not just of hurting your fellow citizens, but hurting our entire country.
You don’t have to be a member of the KKK to be racist, but not being a member of the KKK does not mean you aren’t racist. Slavery may have been outlawed 150 years ago, but the Civil Rights Movement was less than 50 years ago. Fifty years ago blacks were still sitting in the back of the bus, drinking out of separate water fountains, being sprayed by fire hoses for peacefully protesting, and living in extreme poverty with substandard education.
To this day, there are still a lot of negative stereotypes about blacks. I can’t think of any negative stereotypes about white people, other than we can’t dance. When you are the people in power, negative stereotypes roll right off your back. But for the people who are not in power, even stereotypes we think are harmless can have terrible consequences.
Ever hear whites make fun of black names? Names like Lakeesha and Jashon? Did you know that when potential employers are presented with two identical resumes, one with a white name and one with a black name, the white person gets the interview, hands down. Not so harmless now. And when “undercover” black and white employees interview for jobs, when they both have the exact same qualifications, guess who almost always gets called back? Yeah, that’s right, the whites.
When I say “welfare queen,” do you think of a poor white woman living in Appalachia outside a trailer, with a bunch of dirty kids in diapers running around, or do you think of Lakeesha, sitting on her welfare throne with buckets of food stamps all around her? Yet, there are twice as many whites on welfare as blacks and that’s not including the white CEOs of corporate America.
Do you ever find yourself having conversations with other whites and when you talk about blacks you whisper the word “blacks”? If you are not ashamed of what you are saying, why are you whispering?
If I told you I was representing an alleged drug dealer, in your mind is he black or white? (He’s white by the way.)
Our criminal justice system is rife with racism. Just one example: In 2011 the City of Philadelphia settled a lawsuit with the ACLU because of the police department’s “stop and frisk” policy. Seventy-six percent of the people stopped in Philadelphia without reasonable suspicion were minorities and 85 percent of the people frisked were minorities, including lawyers, doctors and other professionals.
The New York City Police Department just reached a settlement with the ACLU over the same issue. Have you ever been stopped on the sidewalk by the police and asked for ID? Never? How many times have you been frisked by the police? None? The last time you got a ticket, did the police ask you for “consent” to search your car? I didn’t think so.
I recently read a transcript where a black witness to a crime told a detective that the suspect “didn’t just kill someone; he killed a white person!” As if that was worse. That’s the power of white skin. It’s 2013 and minorities are still afraid of us.
I had a guy in my office today. Nice guy. 45 years old. White. Well educated. We were talking about race. He denied he was racist and admitted that although he used the “n” word when he was younger, he doesn’t use it anymore. He then turned to look down my hallway towards my waiting room, laughed, and in a half whisper said: “There aren’t any here, are there? I’m not going to get shot?”
Seconds earlier he was swearing up and down that he was not racist and now he was concerned that those “n” word people were in my waiting room with guns. He didn’t even realize what he was saying. And that is the problem — not that he is racist; but that he does not even know it.
And that’s the problem with white America — we are racist and we don’t even know it.
Dawn Cutaia is an attorney. She lives in Manchester.