Quick hit: Race affects everyone

I’ve heard it before. I’ve said it before. I base my writing and my activism and my parenting on this fundamental truth: race affects everyone’s life.

Still, when I heard it from Pam Spaulding1 in a BlogHer session, there was that moment of frisson, that “what?” that comes from my privilege, from the belief drilled into my every neuron from birth on that race is about them, those brown people over there, not me, I don’t have to worry about race, race doesn’t affect my life directly.

Years of working to rid myself of it, and still that moment appears. Still. Maybe always.

Perhaps there is no getting rid of that moment completely. Most of the time, now, such a phrase feels right at home in my ears, familiar in my heart. Race affects everyone. White people have white privilege. I am infected with racism. My soul nods — not because it loves these things, but because it knows them, now, knows the knapsack I was granted at birth (was grafted on me at birth), and works daily to become familiar with its contents.

But still, sometimes, when least expected, someone will reference, offhand, the thing on my back — and I startle. Just for a moment, but I’d forgotten. I can forget. Everything in my culture wants me to forget, wants me to stop talking about my knapsack, wants me to stop pointing out the emperor’s. And sometimes it succeeds.

Maybe I can’t get rid of that moment completely, but I can change what comes next: of course it’s there. Of course it’s real. Of course race affects everyone. Of course race is a part of my every moment. I can recognize that frisson for what it is: the protestations and self-protections of the privilege inside me. It is not truth: it is what kyriarchy would have me think true, so that I might propagate racism, scatter its poisoned pollen everywhere I go.

I cannot counter that which I do not acknowledge exists, and so I say, again: I live with white privilege in every moment; race affects me; race affects you.

Race affects everyone.

  1. Paraphrase: “…because race affects my life. Well, race affects everyone’s life.”
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8 Responses to Quick hit: Race affects everyone

  1. Yes.

    I am thankful for good friends who will remind me of this. Friends who, for example, are middle class, educated, clean-cut, heterosexual, and well-spoken and therefore have many of the same privileges I do, but that are also black and that recently faced awful racist comments from the neighbours when they moved into their new home. I thank them for telling me their stories, just as I thank my lesbian friends for telling me their stories, and I thank my low income friends for telling me their stories, and I thank my Muslim friends for telling me their stories. Because those stories are important and those stories ensure that I don’t forget.

  2. Yes, absolutely yes. My problem is that when someone points out my knapsack, I get all flustered and embarrassed and often try to explain it away or point out how much I know it’s there: “What? Oh, no, that’s not what I meant… No, I totally understand [insert issue/topic/aspect of/about inherent racism and oppression in our society] but what I was talking about was…. [insert very large, very white, foot in my big white mouth]”

    I’m working at being more comfortable with people noticing my knapsack so that I can smile when they do, acknowledge its presence and listen to what they have to say about it instead of trying to minimize or justify it. It’s there now and its not going to be easy to take it off. Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion I won’t ever be able to get rid of it entirely – my hope is to continue to unpack its contents, to let go of what I carry in it, and do what I can to shrink it and its influence in my life as I go.

    And that can’t happen without me acknowledging it wholeheartedly and being open to hearing what other people see in it.

  3. Race effects everyone. One is born with certain characteristics which are labelled as ‘race’ (not a scientific concept). Because humans need a way to identify ‘us’ versus ‘them’, the ‘race’ you are born into effects your entire life, will ye or nill ye.

    All an individual can do is try not to absorb too much racism and discrimination, One cannot be lake anyone else, one cannot like everyone, one will learn about various ‘races’ one way or the other.

    Just remember that they are all human and that their actions count more than their skin color or facial features, and try to leave the next generation less racist than the previous by your example.

  4. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for acknowledging it, loudly. The more we say “it is real!” the more people will start to see it.

  5. I try so hard to understand what my Whiteness really means. I read, I watch, I listen, I observe. And still it eludes me. I can still pretend it’s not there. It may take me till I’m 80 to understand, but as a member of humanity, I cannot allow myself to exercise the privilege to stop pursuing my self-education.

  6. Just last night my husband and I had this whole long discussion about race and racism, and he got frustrated with me because, as he outs it, between work and taking care of the kiddo and dinner and bedtimes, etc, we have such limited time together and he doesn’t want to fill it with arguments about things that “aren’t part of my day-to-day life” (and thus don’t matter or aren’t as pressing). (Yes, he still has a lot of white-middle-class-male blinders to work on).

    I calmly explained to him that, sure, WE don’t *have* to think about race every day, because of our position at the top of the world. But I am raising one, soon to be two, white male children who will look to me to set the tone for what their attitudes on race will be, and I need to explore these issues for myself so I can be more clear about the best ways to educate them. I think that opened his eyes a bit.

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