Posted by: Tina M | 8 July , 2010

My whiteness, my privilege, my “burden”

Today, for probably the millionth time, I had an existential crisis while facilitating a workshop. It can definitely be a challenge to filter the internal dialogue with the planned curriculum and the conversation that organically crops up, but when it’s about racism, and I’m a white person in front of a group of youth of color- the internal dialogue reaches extreme decibels.

I do anti-oppression work, and this is a pretty common experience, but it never ceases to be difficult, awkward, and completely worthwhile.

I always want to acknowledge my whiteness when talks of racism comes up. I think that it could be easy to act “down,” make people wonder if your genes hide a secret from them, or pretend that “those white people” doesn’t include you- but it would be dishonest. I appreciate the way I was educated about anti-racism; in one of the most radical perspectives at Antioch College. I was taught that all white folks are privileged by virtue of being perceived as white (white skin privilege) and white people are racist by virtue of existing in a society that is structured to privilege white folks over people of color. That doesn’t mean that all white people are mean spirited, or even perpetuate racism all the time, but the reality is when you are given these invisible gifts from the beginning of your life, it’s impossible to notice and react accordingly. The last, and most important point that I was taught, was that guilt about your whiteness is probably the most annoying and least helpful reaction to learning about white privilege.

These basic ideas have framed my way of thinking and my overall level of harshness when referring to the responsibility of white people to acknowledge their privilege and work to fight racism. So, today in my workshop, the discussion came up about communities of power and privilege. One participant said that they chose to be a part of the Black Community. And while I think that there are many instances where this could be true, in reference to privilege, it didn’t seem like a real choice. I asked the group, could I, a white person, choose to be a part of the Black Community?

“Sure!” they responded.

I admitted, yes, we should all be in community together, however would it be ok if I identified as Black?

“Sure!” they said, it’s about what’s on the inside. . .

:::sigh:::     Internal red flag  If I have to push it this hard, am I pushing my own views on these youth? and am I being too hard and fast with identity?

ok, well imagine your white friend and you both go to get interviewed by a racist employer- who’s going to get the job?

Which person is more likely to be pulled over? etc. . . etc. . .

I think it became real when the coordinator mentioned, “so because this white kid comes from your neighborhood and says the N word, they’re a part of your community” and all the youth cut in to clarify “Oh no, they don’t say that” – – – and we asked why? What’s the difference- Privilege

whew! It seemed like everyone was on the same page at this point. and the discussion continued. I love having the opportunity to have this discussion with young people and to see what their experiences have been, what their response is when examining the larger structure of oppression. It always keeps me on my toes. How do I continue to be an ally, and step back even though I’m the health educator/facilitator?

And then another awesome question.

“If I don’t like interracial couples (when it’s a Black man and a White woman), does that mean I’m racist?”

Hmm. First, racism was defined in my mind (again by Antioch) as power + privilege. This was always the best argument against the crazy idea of “Reverse Racism.” I can’t count the amount of times that white folks have argued with me- well I know a lot of Black people that hate white people. . . and I respond, but what does that hatred do to you? Does the hatred sprout roots and grow to be an entire system of mistreatment of white folks? No, it hurts your feelings. Get over it.

So, with that idea aside, I wanted to let her know that as a Young Black Woman, it’s ok for her to have the conversation about why this phenomenon happens. I’m not trying to say that all Black men that date White women have internalized racism that’s causing their decisions- I know that many people fall in love no matter how convenient it might be to the parties involved. I do, however, acknowledge that this is a conversation that has happened many times within my earshot. There really is a war against Women of Color. Femininity, beauty, strength, composure. . . all of this is at a tension with the reality of having to survive in a world that is unsafe for communities of color, and unsafe for women. Where women’s sexuality is abused, where families are destroyed by the prison industrial complex, and where people have to toughen up to be safe on the streets but then turn out “Too Hood” for the eligible bachelors.

So there we were, having conversations about identity, authenticity (because he’s still a Black man even though he’s dating outside his race), internalized racism, desire, and our own accountability.

And after I walked out of the workshop, the conversation echoed in my brain.

How does my own relationship (interracial with a Person of Color) play in to this dynamic?

Do partners need to have similar identities, backgrounds, experiences? Can you be humble enough and compassionate, willing to learn and grow and sometimes be wrong and fucked up?

And how does my role as “facilitator” of the conversations (in my relationship and in workshops) position me in a place that is somehow safe from critique? Is it similar to the idea that if I laugh at myself first, you can’t laugh at me? If I call out my racism you don’t have to?

I don’t really have answers for this. I’m still not sure if I said the “right” things.

But I appreciate that the questions keep coming. That it provides me with opportunities to continue to question and grow and grapple with the reality.

Because the minute I’ve left a conversation about race feeling sure of myself- I’m sure to have sold out.


  1. I am with you it’s difficult to talk about issues of race when you are white no matter what your experiences you are seen as the white majority, “the man.” But don’t stop fighting the good fight.

    We recently launched a blog, Racy JC, that approaches interracial dating in a new, honest, real, and non-PC way. Please check it out!
    social media: jcdaviesauthor

    And never forget interracial dating is great and you can do it! Racy JC

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