Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ashamed of being white?

I'm going to try and create a post here that is cobbled together from an email conversation I had with a friend. I thought some of the points raised were really key to this discussion.

First, from K:
Susan, I too am leaving a comment to let you know that I am reading your stuff and i guess, digesting it. I had a couple of questions - are you ashamed of yourself because you are white? are you ashamed when you participate in white privilege (like getting to travel, or taking your kid out of school to go abroad for 3 weeks or owning a house, or wanting beautiful cookware)? I am not ashamed of these things. (No I don't get to take my kid abroad 4 times a year, but that is because i have the luxury of making the choice to send them to the school of my choice - same thing, different verse).

Though, I am not sure how to live within the cultural and social class privilege that I and my children currently have. It seems (and you know i tend to polarize things because i am not good with nuances and unknowns and maybe not even very mature, but that is a micro, not a macro discussion) that that is the crux of my wonder at this point; how do you practically apply anti-racist parenting? how does it look?

one thing that struck me as very hilarious (just randomly saying stuff off the cuff here).
but when i saw that "got privilege" hat on one of the blogs recently, i laughed hysterically because who else but someone with privelege would spent their money getting that thing printed! it seemed like the pinnacle of privilege. Anyway, I am not meaning these things in a mean or " drive by" sort of way. i am just honestly giving your my thoughts about this entry in particular and then some other things that have come to mind as i contemplate how i am participating in racism.

7:36 AM

Susan said...

I have to out the fact that after you wrote this comment, you wrote me personally checking in to make sure I wasn't offended. I wasn't and am not. And there is a lot of stuff you say in here that I want to tackle. No, I'm not ashamed of my privilege. Shame isn't the right word - it's more that I feel a great responsibility towards it. My privilege doesn't feel individual, it feels part of a system, a greater whole and so it exists in direct relationship to the other parts of that whole. What that means is, like the chaos theory cliche, when a butterfly flaps its wings in Minnesota, a cyclone starts in Palau. Every action of mine has direct affect on the lives of many others, some I can know and some I will never meet. Acting within the ignorance of my privilege or not taking responsibility for it means causing cyclones that I will never know about. Even taking responsibility for it still means causing those cyclones - I don't think that awareness of this gives me any carte blanche to feel like I'm now separated or the good white person. It's like I've written about elsewhere, it's having to live with discomfort.

I also want to pull at something you said about the privilege of taking Luca out of school for three weeks to travel abroad. To me that isn't privilege so much as responsibility. Yeah, we can argue about what it means to gather the dollars to make it happen (the privilege is that Rocki's family can help us some) but if we didn't have other dollars, than this would be the only thing we saved for every year. Rocki's family lives in Brazil. They speak Portuguese. If we/I didn't support this to happen, then Rocki and Luca would not have a certain access to each other. I think that because it is Brazil they are going to, it sounds unimaginable or crazy or exotic to the US midwest when it isn't. It's like going to Iowa to see your family. You would never NOT go to Iowa to connect with your family, it isn't an option. I feel very strongly about my responsibility to support going to Brazil, even when, quite honestly, I would rather not. If you and I have never had the conversation about my own struggles with how Brazil and Portuguese configures in our life, I would be happy to have that conversation with you.

I was talking a few days before I left with a man I know from the Global Market. He is from Ecuador. He makes way less cash than I do. Every year, he brings his whole family to Ecuador because it is not an option to do otherwise. For him, his earnings go towards basic needs and the trip to Ecuador. All other things come after that. I would have to say that in my priority list of dollars, Brazil exists the same way. More important than the house or any of the other things we spend money on. More of a responsibility. And I do put the responsibility of Brazil in a different category than private school. Private school is a choice. Staying in close touch with Rocki's family is not. But that's how I draw my responsibility lines.

I think your question about the practical application of antiracist parenting is the crux. Vikki has also rightfully accused me of being too abstract. I am going to try and write a blog later this week on the white antiracist parenting website that is just about practicalities.

K said:
i liked your comments on my comment. i think you took my comment about the privelge of travel/going to brazil the wrong way. i sort of said it off the cuff, quickly thinking of things that seemed like privilege in my life/your life our life. i get the differences between staying connected with a family and (your comparison) going to private school.

but, i am kind of glad that i didn't edit it out (like put in "luxury car" instead of "travel") because of this: i think it is great that you got it "out there" for anyone who is reading the blog to help forward the understanding of traveling as a part of privelge and traveling to stay
connected to your family. i also wonder (it is too bad that more people don't read this blog) about people who think that, for instance, "how does RK (one of the engineers at b's job - i don't know how to spell his name) afford to go to india for 2 months a year? b overhears complaints about that. of course no one would ever actually have a conversation with him about it - to further their understanding and make a connection with him. (of course b has conversations with him about it because of their shared love of food, but really that is the extent of it). ok stay with me on this one....which makes me think about how it is white people's responsibility to educate other white people. wow. that was a stream of consciousness......more streams. regarding private school. i will never in a million years take my kids out of lake country. we will only take them out when they kick us out for nonpayment. i am pretty ok with the luxury of my privilege. which is not to mean that i am not owning it, it means that i can understand how, for instance taking my kids presence out of public school probably has a ripple effect on someone somewhere (although our dollars aren't taken out and shouldn't be), but that isn't enough for me to remove them. i recognize that that is privilege and, well, i am choosing to live with the discomfort. even though....and i should be... but am not..... ( and god i wish i was saying this in person so you know that i am not as callous as i sound) that discomforted by it.

Susan said:
It's interesting - I think that a lot of if not most white folks who are progressive do have some shame about being white. I think it's more common that uncommon - or if not shame, then certainly guilt. I think it's a hard one, I wouldn't say I'm proud of being white, I would say that white is the neutral zone and to give it too much energy - shame, guilt, pride - is to move out of the work we have to do. For me, all of this is about a context and a systemic whole. White has intensity only because white privilege is propped up against and involved with the creation of racism. Try and undermine white privilege or separate white - a neutral state that doesn't exist any more than "of color" exists - from white privilege, and you are working for change. But what does that look like in the practical sense, right?


Vikki said...

I feel guilty about many things but being white is not one of them. I'm white and that is the way it is and there is no reason to have a lot of angst about it. Guilt is an unproductive emotion. To those who know me, that may seem like an ironic comment but I mean it in all seriousness. So, I agree with you Susan that guilt is a distraction from a productive end.

Susan said...

I actually believe you. If anything, your whiteness feels mixed with your class, Kansas, your mother - it's all in there as a root of who you are. But again, white is different from white privilege, isn't it? White is neutral, within a conversation about US racial classifications, it's who we are. White privilege is what we wrestle with, and our collusion with racism. And this still isn't very practical. I am truly going to try.

Vikki said...

I don't have a lot of practice thinking of my "whiteness" as you put it. I most often think in terms of class and queerness and see most of the world through those lenses.

I need a book "101 ways we collude with racism and how to knock it off". I'm looking forward to you writing that in this forum :)

t.t. said...

Yes, white guilt or shame is very wide-spread and it does have to do with privilege and complicity in white supremacy. I don't think being in touch with our emotions about this and acknowledging them, (whether they are guilt, shame, fear, anger or whatever) is unproductive. It does not have to be an impediment to the work we do. We can feel our emotions and act despite them. I was terrified to start this blog, for example, but I did it pretty much within twenty-four hours of getting the idea, because I knew that the longer I sat on the fence, the more excuses I would find to not do it. So, Vikki, that's awesome that you don't harbor guilt about your whiteness and all of what whiteness has attached to it, but again, if one of us feels it, that's okay too. We can still work towards a more just society in productive ways as long as we are conscious about our internal dialog on the issues.