Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Figuring out Whiteness

I'm hashing out an idea in my mind and can't quite figure it out. Maybe you can help.

Here's the thought:
Maybe people of different ethnicities should remain separate. We each need to work on our own issues separate and apart from each other. Black people need to work on their issues with other Black people. Whites with other Whites. Hispanics with other Hispanics.

Of course, if you know me, you know I don't mean that totally and completely. Allow me to explain.

I attended a lecture series last night where an African-American lady spoke of how the problem with White people isn't that they need to figure out Black people. We don't need to come together with more Black people. We don't need to work harder at understanding how Black people must feel. We don't need to work harder at recognizing that they are discriminated against. Instead, we need to grapple with our own Whiteness. The problem is that we need to figure ourselves out.

What does that mean and how do we do that? I've been working to understand this for a couple of years now...and I'm still trying to grasp the whole concept. On one level I understand it. We (White people) are never going to "understand" Black people...or any other ethnic group for that matter. We are White. No matter what we do, we can never experience what it's like to be a person of color and feel the discrimination they have felt year after year after year. Even the people on that HBO series Black.White. didn't get it. Changing their skin color for a short period of time just made the White man into a belligerant White man with darker skin who then tried to convince the Black man that if he wouldn't have such a "chip" he would realize things aren't really as he perceives them. Side comment: How is it that we (Whites) think so many Black people have these "wrong" perceptions...yet they all say the same thing no matter what part of the country or what area of town they live in. If everyone is saying the same thing from east to west and north to south, doesn't that tell us something???

I also understand that we need to understand our own White power...our own White privilege. We need to recognize it, understand it, and do something about the inequality of it. Our privilege and power is no surprise to people of color but, for some reason, we (Whites) can't recognize it in ourselves. The benefits we receive from the system keep us blind to that. We need to be willing to step outside of our comfort zone and address those privilege and power issues...which will not always win us friends and will actually alienate some who we thought were friends.

But how do we work through that without the help of people of color? Can we do it just among Whites? I'm not sure that we can. We are so blinded by our seat of privilege and power that we need good friends (people of color) who are willing to point out to us where our racial blinders take over.

I do believe that we need to work on our own issues. And I do believe we have a LOT of issues to deal with. (At least it seems like people of color recognize the vices in their communities. I think we're too busy justifying to recognize our many problems...but that could be a whole different blog!). I believe we need to challenge each other within our White group to see things differently, but I also believe we need to have good friends (NOT just acquaintances) of different ethnicities and different socioeconomic groups to help us become aware. We've become so comfortable in our power and privilege role that we can't always see the forest for the trees. We need friends of color to challenge us so that we can go and challenge others. But, WE (Whites) need to be the initiators to educate ourselves.

That's my formulating opinion. What's yours?
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