Owning My Whiteness
Since I’ve been writing on Medium I’ve been reading even more on Medium and over the months I’d been reading, I’d become very uncomfortable with a certain group of writers whom I came to think of as “angry black women.” When I read their words, about how white women — in particular — don’t, can’t possibly, understand what they, as black women, have been through and go through on a daily basis; don’t, can’t possibly, understand the depth of the particular dynamic that renders them ‘less-than’ in the eyes of a white citizenry that often seems, at best, somewhat delusional, a little something inside me got angry back. It was that little something that still carries the energy of having been sexually abused as an infant and later trafficked as a child mostly to rich old white men entirely because I “took after” my father and looked “Puerto Rican,” whereas my exceedingly Germanic-looking sister was not only untouched but celebrated.
But I kept reading their angry words. I kept reading because I resonated with that anger and because the writing was compelling. I kept reading, I soon realized, because at this point in my life, looking like nothing more than an old white woman as every aspect of me gets more and more pale, I lead a different life, a privileged life compared to the lives of the vast majority of people around the world. And because of these writers, unafraid to speak their minds, to express their righteous anger, I find now that I am questioning, questioning, questioning at almost every turn of these southern roads where I now live, transplanted from the northern east coast cities where I grew up and spent most of my life. Nothing seems the same to me anymore.
When I’m interacting with someone, like the slightly overweight good-ole-boy-in-the-making who delivered tiles to our house this afternoon and was ever so polite to me, inside my head there arose this question: “Would this person be treating me in this way if I were black?” I find myself wondering, time and time again, like at the gas station when my crippled hands can’t quite manage a tricky pump, “Is this person who is going out of their way to help me with this a whole different person if someone younger and brown or black needs help? Would they not be as polite? Would they help at all?”
These passionate, angry, women writers here on Medium have dragged me and my insistence on identifying with a ‘me’ that has long since gone, into the reality of what life is and of how who I am now fits into it that; they have forced me to see that, yes, I was a victim… but I am a victim no longer.
I am not especially well-off; my husband and I live modestly, but we are privileged simply because of the color of our skin. I have always been aware of the unfairness of that, ever since I was a child when I learned that some people thought differently about others who had skin that was a color different from their own. It made no sense to me. But in retrospect, I was never truly able to appreciate what it must be like to be on the other side of that seemingly random decision. I could not imagine how it might feel to be so profoundly disrespected until I was much older when I finally became fully conscious of the fact that it had been my skin color that had caused me to be singled out by my maternal grandfather as suitable meat for his commercial endeavor. By then, only deeply repressed fears and anger remained.
But I am not that little girl anymore. Age has rendered me one of the White. The anger expressed by this particular group of women writers here on Medium forced me to confront my own past again, to work on healing emotional wounds that had been reopened when obscenely wealthy old white men were given free rein in this country by virtue of fear and ignorance personified, the very kinds on men that my grandfather had pandered me to. The words and the passionate anger of these writers have required that I own who I am now, still honoring my past, but paying attention now to the fact that I walk in the world where I live, in the land of white so-called supremacy, looking like an older, seemingly untroubled white woman yet with a mind full of questions about the people around me, facing reality every day now with what seems to me to be a growing clarity that is filled with questions and tinged with a vast uncertainty.
And this, I suppose, is how I begin to learn.