When it comes to discussing race, I always became uneasy in a classroom. Not because I am afraid of the topic or don't think it is irrelevant but because I always felt that I might offend someone. However, in a classroom discussion of Women's issues, rights or Feminist thought, I felt very comfortable and open about speaking from experiences or talking about my thoughts. I think it's because although I was in a class room of racial, economic and cultural backgrounds — we could all agree that women were oppressed. My relationship with Gender Studies and Feminist thought is one that is incredibly personal because see it everyday. I witness life through a women's lens. While I am educated and informed of race and ethnicity, my relationship is different because I experience life being white and having a privilege I don't even notice most days.
I was first introduced to the topic of white privilege while in college taking a class called 'Race and Ethnic Relations', the professor created a comfortable and open atmosphere. Many topics were discussed but I did the majority of my learning by reading articles by authors such as Peggy McIntosh to Audre Lorde and Patricia Hill Collins. If there is any sociology or gender studies readers, you know that those are very big names. These women and men introduced me to world of explaining how race, gender, and class meet and create a world of privilege. While I am an educated white female, I had no idea about my white privilege until I stepped outside of the classroom and articles.
I would be lying if I told you I never saw race. I don't believe in being "color blind". Race and ethnicity does not define a person's character however I do believe we must celebrate cultural and racial differences instead of turning a blind eye. I can understand that many could consider that to be radical or not make sense, but I think political, cultural and racial differences is what provides us with a rich and vibrant society. The hardest part about my explaining my beliefs or thinking is how I don't see my skin color. I don't notice myself as being white. Does this make me ignorant after all of the reading and studying I have done on this topic? I bring this up because I never noticed my skin color until it was used against me in a very personal way.
While I have been seeing a black male for some time now, it recently came to my attention how much our race, culture and class has created a divide between us. While I have been trying to assimilate into his culture, I have learned that he has become insecure of our relationship because of these differences. A black, educated, athletic male doesn't believe he should be with me because he is an "embarrassment" based on where he is from, the color of his skin and his cultural background. Two things immediately popped into my head. Have I been living in a world where I don't even notice my own privilege while I parade around discussing women's issues? How do I go about comforting someone on race?
Suddenly there I was again, in front of a classroom having to discuss all those racial topics I always felt uncomfortable talking about. I neglected to look at my own position of power when racism is involved. I felt stupid, for lack of better words. The only explanation I had for him was that I had fallen for all the pieces of him. This included his race, economical position and all his little quirks that I didn't find to be quirky at all. I never wanted and still don't want him to believe he is any less of a man because we look different and we come from different backgrounds. My question I pose is, how do I go about accepting my whitness and yet comforting him in our differences?
I leave you with this from Peggy McIntosh
"...as my racial group was being make confident, comfortable, and oblivious, other groups were likely being made confident, uncomfortable, and alienated. Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress, and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit in turn upon people of color.
For this reason, the word “privilege” now seems to me misleading. We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned or conferred by birth or luck. Yet some of the conditions I have described here work to systematically overempower certain groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance because of one’s race or sex."