A good friend of mine recently sent me a link to “What I Told My White Friend When He Asked For My Black Opinion On White Privilege” by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, the editor of Good Black News, and said that as a result of reading it, he finally understood what white privilege is. In that article, Lakin Hutcherson responds to a white friend from high school who reached out and said he had no clue as to what “white privilege” meant or why he had it, and asked his POC friends for personal examples in an effort to understand.
It’s a great article. Go read it now, and then come back here.
After I read it, I emailed my friend back and said that every POC could write an article like that, and we probably should. So I’m going to. Right here. Right now.
Like Ms. Lakin Hutcherson, I need to explain a few things first, so that readers who are unaware of these issues have some context for what follows.
I’m not black, I am Mexican-American. So while I’ve experienced some of the same things that Ms. Lakin Hutcherson has, I’ve also experienced some things she never has or will. Likewise, she has experienced a lot of things I never have or will. Also, as a straight male, there are some intersectional issues I have not experienced that a female person of color or a gay person of color has.1
To be more specific, however, I am a biracial Mexican-American, the product of a light skinned Mexican-American mother and a white father. Because I am very light skinned and I have an Anglo name, I can often pass. This has been useful as a survival strategy, but it also introduces difficulties that someone who is not biracial, regardless of their color, will not have experienced. (This will be important later.)
Also, like Ms. Lakin Hutcherson, I was taught/encouraged/required to not make a fuss and just deal with stuff, which, as she points out, is why it seems like there is so much anger and resentment boiling over in this country right now. Again, this will be important later.
I’m also cherry-picking, because this is a blog and not a memoir. There are probably some memories that I’ve forgotten, and some I choose not to share. Most of what I talk about here is middle-of-the-road kind of stuff.
I’m going to go in mostly chronological order, but because prejudice, hatred, and oppression often play out as variations on a theme, some points will have incidents from various points in my life. If it seems repetitive to you, that’s because it is.
A note about intersectionality: Even though I don’t really experience this in my day-to-day life, I still strongly support intersectional issues. When it comes to brown people, or black people, or queer people, or immigrant people, or female people, or English-as-a-second-language people, we’re all just each other’s canaries in a coal mine. That is to say, what affects one of us will eventually affect all of us. In other words, unless you’re a straight white Christian male, you don’t exist in a bubble. (And even straight white Christian dudes don’t exist in a bubble, although an awful lot of them would like to.) What affects others will eventually affect you and me.
At the age of three I was, apparently, quite fluent in Spanish. (More than I am now, at least.) My father’s family heard my mother and me speaking to each other in Spanish at a holiday get-together and were appalled. “But we won’t know what you’re saying!” they protested. “How will we know if you’re talking about us?” From that point forward, Spanish was forbidden at my white grandparents’ house.
Years later, I met my stepfather’s oldest sister for the first time when we dropped in on her garage sale. (My mother remarried in middle age.) “How’s the sale going?” my stepfather asked her. “Some Mexicans were just here,” she said, her nose wrinkling in disgust. “Jabbering away in Mexican, and I just know they were talking about me.”
It’s a few years later and I’m in the produce department in the grocery store. A Latino family is nearby: a father, a mother, three kids. They’re conversing very softly in Spanish, trying to decide what to cook for dinner as they pick through the zucchini. They gradually work their way down the aisle, coming close to a woman who suddenly senses someone near her, looks up, sees them, and recoils. The Latino family is blissfully unaware of her as she storms off to her companion. Curious, I follow her. (These sorts of things interest me, so I’ve become a pretty good grocery store detective.) “What’s the matter?” her companion asks, seeing the look of pain and anguish on her face. “Some damn Mexicans over there were talking about me,” she whispers.2
Growing up, I attended our local country fair on a regular basis. This was partly because I was a 4-H kid, and partly because it was a lot of fun. Because we’re on the edge of Amish country, there were always a lot of blond-haired, blue-eyed Amish people in the barns, looking at animals, conversing with each other and their children in German.
Nobody ever worried out loud about the Amish people talking about them in German, or not knowing what they were saying.
The point here is that if you’ve never been forbidden from speaking the language that you grew up speaking or you’ve never been accused of using that language to gossip3 about the people around you, you have white privilege.
I was always a scrawny kid in school. I had hearing and speech problems, and making friends was difficult. Because of an accident, I started fifth grade a week late, so I was a bit nervous about going to school. At the age of ten, I knew that the social chips had already settled by the end of the first week. I was assigned a seat next to Jim, who was a lot bigger than me, but energetic and friendly and who wanted nothing more, it seemed, than to be my friend. Imagine a Labrador retriever in human form. We became good friends almost instantly.
One day as winter approached, he remarked that I was still really tan. (Kids still played outdoors in those days; most kids started school with a tan that eventually disappeared by Thanksgiving.) I explained to him that I was Mexican, and that being tan was kind of a thing that we did.
“You’re Mexican?” he asked, his eyes flashing with excitement. “Oh man, I know all about Mexicans!”
He then began to recite a litany of some of the most racist Mexican jokes I’d ever heard up to that point:
“Why don’t Mexicans ever grill out?—Because their beans fall through the grill!”
“How does a Mexican know when he’s hungry?—When his ass stops burning!”
“Why don’t black people marry Mexicans?—They’re afraid their kids will be too lazy to steal!” (He got a two-for-one with that joke.)
He went on for several minutes, reciting his racist rosary of Mexican jokes. It was as if he’d been waiting all his short life to tell these jokes, which I suppose he probably was.
The point here is that if you’ve never had your race “explained” to you through a litany of racist jokes, you have white privilege.
Ten-year-old me didn’t know quite how to deal with the situation with Jim; grown-up me has put it well behind him. He was, after all, a sponge like all kids are, absorbing what he’d heard at home and then regurgitating it at what he thought was an opportune moment. We remained good friends all through middle and high school, and when I showed up to my high school graduation with a black eye (long story, that) he offered to track down the guy that gave it to me and beat him to a pulp. And he would have done it, too.
The point here is that if you’ve never had to accept a friend’s racism toward you because “that’s just how they were raised,” you have white privilege.
I admit that I am a bit fuzzy on the details on this one.
It’s sometime in middle school, and I’ve just purchased the latest Billy Joel album. (Please don’t judge me.) I’m at a friend’s house and he wants make to a copy of it on a cassette tape., which is great, because he’s got some albums I would like to get on tape as well. A trade is in the air, because it’s the 1980’s and we didn’t need Napster to violate copyright regulations. Our supplies of blank tapes and time are both limited, so we do what kids have always done—we negotiate, eventually working out a deal where I’ll bring over a couple of albums and some extra blank cassettes, and we’ll spend an afternoon listening to and copying some music. It was the kind of deal we worked out trading comic books or baseball cards when we were younger. As always, there was a lot of back-and-forth on the details, and “I’ll let you copy this and this, and you’ll let me copy that and that, and I’ll throw in the cassettes”—which seemed fair to me, since we were using his stereo to do this. In the end we settled on something we both thought was fair.
A week goes by and he hasn’t mentioned our scheduled taping session even once. I finally mention it to him, and he looks at me askance. Don’t worry about it, he says. My mom bought me a copy of that album the day after you were over here.
Why, I ask.
“She just didn’t like the way you were, I guess,” he said, sighing. “She thought you were being kind of bossy and aggressive and she didn’t like it. So she bought me the album.”
Confidence and assertiveness in people of color is often view as arrogance and aggressiveness, while arrogance and aggressiveness in white people (especially white males) is often just viewed as confidence and assertiveness. The point here is that if you’ve ever been accused of being “bossy” and “aggressive” when a white friend who does the same thing is just considered “assertive” and “self-confident,” you have white privilege.
It’s the beginning of my junior year in high school, and I’m desperate for a job. A year younger than most of my classmates, I’d always felt that I needed to work just that much harder to compensate.
A new pizza place is opening up at the north end of town, where a “Help Wanted” sign taunts me from their front window. I put in my application. So does my friend Jim. Yes, that Jim, although he’s now down to nine fingers, because (and I mean this in the nicest possible way) he somehow managed to run himself over with a lawn mower. It’s a long story, but the main point is he ran over his own ass with a goddamn lawn mower.
Jim’s grades weren’t nearly as good as mine, and unlike him, I had several of my teachers as references. We both interviewed on the same day—I interviewed right after him, actually. I felt fairly confident because I had been working in restaurants since the age of nine, and he had been mostly self-employed in the running his own ass over with a goddamn lawn mower business, so I felt sure I would get the job over him. But I didn’t. Jim got the job.
I convinced myself then that it was because he was not short and scrawny, like I was. Maybe you needed to be at least this tall to ride this particular employment ride, or you needed a great deal of physical strength. Jim was both tall and on the wrestling team, and while he was not the brightest porch light on the block, he was physically powerful, even if he did only have nine fingers. (And why did he only have nine fingers? Because he ran his own ass over with a goddamn lawn mower.)
Of course, he also wasn’t Mexican.
Jim was a lot of things I wasn’t. He was tall, I was short; he was friendly and outgoing, I was friendly and introverted; he was reasonably articulate, I was a tad bit more articulate; he was strong and loyal, I had managed to avoid running my own ass over with a goddamn lawnmower. In the end, I’ll never know why he got the job and I didn’t and at this point in my life it really doesn’t matter.
The point here is that if you’ve never had to wonder whether your race played a role in your not getting a job (or indeed, any opportunity), you have white privilege.
My friend Dan worked at The Hayloft, which was a big barn-shaped ice cream parlor on the western edge of town. Dan ran the miniature golf course, which was cool—outdoors all day, pretty girls to look at on occasion, free mini-golf on slow days and free ice cream on hot days. It was summer; I was looking for work. What high school kid isn’t looking for work in the summer?4 I’d heard they were hiring; maybe my friend Dan could put in a good word for me?
“Go get an application,” he told me, swinging away at an invisible ball. “Mark was here yesterday and got one.”
I knew Mark; he barely knew how to avoid poking his own eye out with a sharpened pencil. If he put in an application…I hot-footed it to the main counter and asked for an application. The owner, a beefy man with ruddy cheeks, shook his head. “Sorry,” he said, not really looking at me. “We don’t have any open positions.” That meant Mark had probably gotten the job, meaning he was either a good talker or this place had low standards. If he managed to fatally injure himself with an ice-cream scoop, however, I might still have a chance.
Maybe I could put in an application, just in case? “Nah,” the owner said. “We got plenty already.”
The next day my friend Frank told me he’d just come from filling out an application at The Hayloft. I headed back and asked my friend Dan, who seemed confused. “I’ll ask,” he said. He unlocked the ball box and handed me a golf ball. “Here,” he said, passing me a putter. “Have a round on me. If anyone comes around wanting to play, tell them to wait.” He disappeared inside the “Employees Only” entrance in the rear.
He came up to me on the fifth hole.
“What did you find out?” I asked.
He shifted nervously on his feet. “They don’t hire Mexicans,” he said at last. He wouldn’t meet my gaze, just kept looking anywhere but at me. Dan was a good friend, and I felt terrible for him. His discomfort was palpable. Meanwhile, birds sang merrily in the trees around us.
“I don’t know why,” he said, looking up at the sky. “It’s just a thing.”
“Okay,” I said. I already had some familiarity with that “thing” so I decided to just forget about it and play through. But he stepped in front of me and put a hand on my putter. “I need that back,” he said.
Dan was fired a week later. Neither of us talked about it, and neither of us held it against the other. It was “just a thing.”
The point here is that if you’ve never been denied even the opportunity to apply for a job because of your race, you have white privilege.
I’m nineteen years old, getting ready for my sophomore year of college. I snag a job as a shift manager at our local Taco Bell5. Because I’m only nineteen, I get the night shift, closing every night. The people I’m paid to be in charge of are all high school students, sixteen or seventeen years old. And on a regular basis, they ask me where they can score some weed.
“I have no idea,” I tell them, over and over.
“Really?” is their dumbfounded response.
One night, I pull Tony aside. He’s tall, blond, reasonably intelligent, and—for my purposes, at least—honest and forthright. At seventeen going on eighteen, he’s one of my oldest crew memebers. Why, I ask him, is everyone asking me where they can buy some weed?
Tony looks at me as if I’m a moron. I like Tony; he works hard, he’s dependable, we’ve always gotten along. This look is something new.
“Well,” he says at last. “You’re Mexican, right?” He speaks with the patience of someone trying to explain quantum mechanics to a three-year-old.
“Half,” I say defensively. Nothing clicks. I wait.
Tony grows uncomfortable. “You know…” he says at last.
And at last, I do know.
A few days later, I put the word out, in the most subtle way I knew how, that I didn’t sell weed, and didn’t know anyone who did. Every cop who comes in gets a free meal on me, and I make a point of this to the back of the house: cops are welcome here. After a while, the question doesn’t get asked any more.
I quit that job at the end of the summer.
The point here is that if you’ve never been suspected of illegal activity (especially drug-related activity) because of the color of your skin, you have white privilege.
It’s later on in college, I’m working for a friend’s dad in his print shop. This is just as Kinko’s was reaching its zenith, but we still actually printed things rather than copied them, using rebuilt cast-off printing presses (loud, but rhythmic—it was a bit like being in the womb) and actual ink, thick and gloopy and with the most delightful smell.
My friend’s dad was a great guy. He had grown up in a cult, and earned a journalism degree from their university. (“They called themselves Christian,” he used to tell me with disgust. “But they always made a point of calling Martin Luther King ‘Martin Lucifer Coon’.”) He eventually ended up as a part-time freelance preacher with some obscure branch of the Seventh-Day Baptist church before becoming a printing press salesman and eventually opening his own print shop. He was a Libertarian back when Libertarianism was focused more on being a non-conformist and less on being a greedy bastard. He was, needless to say, an endlessly fascinating person. He was also one of the few people who called themselves Christian who actually did their best to act like Jesus.
We used to get paper in by the pallet. Most of our paper came from the United States, the rest from Canada. One day we received a shipment of paper that had been made in Mexico. This was certainly something new, and elicited a fair number of comments—in those pre-NAFTA days, nobody knew what to think about anything from Mexico that wasn’t a taco or a sombrero. And because people didn’t know what to think about it, they were uncomfortable. I decided to lighten the mood. I walked around to the back of the pallet.
“It’s all wet on the back!” I shouted.
My boss rushed around to join me. “What?” he asked, the concern on his face and in his voice obvious. We worked with paper in an old building whose roof often leaked. This was, in many ways, a dangerous joke to make.
My boss ran his hand down the back of the pallet. He seemed surprised that it was dry, and then a smile broke across his face. “Knee-slapping” may be a clichéd description of laughter, but that was exactly what he did. He was leaning over, slapping his knee and laughing aloud—it was the dictionary definition of “guffaw” come to life.
“What’s going on?” his wife asked as she ran into the room. She did the books; she knew how expensive a roof leak could be.
My boss explained the joke to her between laughs. “I love this guy,” he said, pointing at me. “He makes jokes about being Mexican.”
There was a bit more laughing and then everyone went back to what they were doing. It was over. We later received other pallets of paper from Mexico, and not a word was said about it. We just ran it through the presses without thinking about where it came from. We’d had a laugh at its expense, and everyone was okay with it now.
The point here is that if you’ve never felt the need to make self-denigrating jokes in an effort to make the white people around you less uncomfortable, you have white privilege.
I don’t have a specific incident in my past for this one, because this particular incident happened so often as I was growing up (and even well into my twenties) that most of these examples have just blended into one big blurry blob of memories for me.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m biracial: my mother is Mexican-American and my father is white. I’m named after him (alas), so I have an Anglo name which, in addition to my fair skin, has allowed me to pass most of my life. Some people look at me and assume I’m Latino; some look at me and assume I’m white; other people look at me and know I’m not white but can’t quite put their finger on what I actually am and try to guess. (Those people are fun at parties, believe me.)
But it happens; sometimes somebody can’t figure out what I am and they ask (sometimes politely, sometimes not), or it comes up in the course of a conversation and takes them completely by surprise, or they find out by accident, even though I don’t really keep it a secret. And we have a conversation where they don’t believe that I’m Mexican, and I have to explain that yes, I technically am, and they don’t believe it, I can’t possible be Mexican, it can’t possible be true. Remember that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke keeps telling Darth Vader that he can’t possibly be his dad? It’s like that.
Sometimes it’s like this:
And sometimes it’s like this:
But eventually they get to a point where they say either
But you can’t be Mexican! You have a regular name!
But you can’t be Mexican! You have a normal name!
There are a dozen other variations of this particular theme, but all of them boil down to a combination of surprise, disbelief, and distrust, as if I were some kind of stealth Mexican who neglected to wear his red, white, and green six-pointed star in public.
The point here is that if you’ve never had someone question your racial identity because you have a “regular” or a “normal” name, you have white privilege.
As I was growing up, only white people bought stuff.
That’s not true, of course. Commerce has been a human function since the first hunter/gatherers grew tired of eating what they were hunting and gathering and traded in the surplus for some Hot Pockets.
But as a child looking through the advertisements in the Sunday paper, one might think otherwise. They were full of happy, smiling people, every one of them enjoying a middle class existence made possible through the power of shopping. And they were all white. Whether they were modeling the latest summer outfit or pretending to enjoy using their new, always empty, food processor, this particular version of the middle class simply didn’t include African-American people, or Mexican-American people, or Vietnamese-American people, or anyone else whose existence is delineated with a hyphen.
And while these people were grilling out and enjoying their hot dogs and hamburgers, something I’m no stranger to, there was a lot of my life that was absent from those ads. No piñatas in the party pictures, nobody eating a tamale, no molcajetes on the table next to the food processor.
The curious thing is that this view of the middle class as an entirely white experience was so complete, so total, so pervasive, that as a child I never even noticed it. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I began to notice non-white faces in the Sunday advertisements. I realized at that point that I had grown up without ever seeing a person of color in pretty much any print advertisement. I couldn’t question the whole “only white people buy stuff” concept because I couldn’t even see it.
The point here is that if you grew up with the expectation that the people depicted in advertising would be the same race as you and enjoy the same things that you do, you have white privilege.
Again, this is not so much an incident as it is a “this happens all the time” kind of thing.
Star Trek is considered by many to be an incredibly progressive televsion and movie franchise. In some ways it is—it was the first television series to show an interracial kiss (although the fact that it was a white man being forced to kiss a black woman is a bit uncomfortable). It does feature “diverse” casts, with black and Asian characters playing prominent roles in the franchise. (Well, two of each, actually. But who’s counting?6) But let’s stop a moment and look at who’s in charge:
- Star Trek: The Original Series — a white guy.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation — an old white guy.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — a black guy (finally!), but oh wait, he’s a commander, not a captain, so he’s one level below the white guys.
- Star Trek: Voyager — a white woman (finally!), but oh wait, she’s stuck on the other side of the galaxy.
- Star Trek: Enterprise — a white guy, but oh wait, he has a dog, so that’s cool.
If you are observant, or even semi-alert, you may notice that most of the people in charge here are either male, or white, or both. And this is on what is considered a progressive franchise. I’ve waited years to see Mexicans in space. Except for the odd red shirt, I’ve yet to seen a Latino in space. Even Firefly missed that one.
In fact, when it comes to Mexicans and Latinos, I don’t see any who are in charge anywhere in film, something Chris Rock made a point of pointing out when he hosted the Oscars. Look at McFarland, USA, which is about a mostly Latino high school track team, and whose coach was a white guy. Then there was Spanglish, which features a Latina maid working for a white guy. The only time you ever see a Latino in charge is when they’re a drug dealer or some other kind of criminal. Growing up, I never saw successful, well-to-do Latino characters on television or in the movies who were in charge, unless they were criminals of some sort. As an adult, I never see successful, well-to-do Latino characters on television or in the movies who were in charge, unless they were criminals of some sort.
You ever wonder why Latino kids don’t aspire to go to college and become businesspeople? Maybe it’s because movies and television don’t ever show Latinos who go to college and become businesspeople.
The point here is that if you can turn on a television or go to the movies and have a reasonable expectation that you will see people of your race portrayed positively or as people in charge of something other than a criminal enterprise, you have white privilege.
There’s more, but I’m exhausted.
—Lori Lakin Hutcherson
I’m done now. I normally enjoy writing, but I can’t say I enjoyed writing this post. It’s the longest post I’ve written in some time, but it has been a tiring experience. Until now, I’ve had the luxury of viewing these incidents as isolated, unique, each unrelated to the rest. There are advantages, both to those power structures that enable and thrive from white privilege, and also to those who suffer as a result of white privilege, from seeing them all as separate. But the truth is, they aren’t, and we—and by “we” I mean everybody, regardless of their race—no longer have that option. Social media and a 24-hour news cycle have seen to that.
I have been reluctant to publish this post. I said earlier that I, like a lot of POC of a certain generation, was raised not to make a fuss, to not complain, to just brush it off and get on with life. Whenever I’ve put two or more of these experiences together in the past, I’ve been accused (sometimes by white people, all too often by other people of color, because, yeah, we do it to ourselves sometimes) of complaining, of whining, of being a crybaby, of making mountains out of molehills. But I’m not complaining or whining. I’m doing okay, actually. And that annoys some people.
It annoys people who benefit from white privilege because they view life as a zero-sum game. That is, if a brown person is doing okay, it must be because a white person is missing out somehow. (I know a white person who basically told me this exact thing.) But it can also annoy brown people because they fear it calls attention to them and exposes them to danger. We’ve been so inculcated to not put two and two together that we do a lot of the heavy lifting for the white hegemony.
Again, the power structures that enable and promote white privilege would like nothing more than for us to not complain, because not complaining makes their lives easier, and not complaining, in turns, makes our lives easier as well. It’s a vicious cycle in which we all deny ourselve great and tremendous possibilities in an effort to not move out of our comfort zone.
Oddly, I first realized how this process works when I read Nick Hornby’s About A Boy, which tells the story of geeky, awkward, twelve-year-old Marcus:
Marcus suddenly felt exhausted. He hadn’t properly realized how bad things were until Will started shouting, but it was true, he really was being taken to pieces every single fucking day of the week. Up until now he hadn’t linked the days of the week in that way: each day was a bad day, but he survived by kidding himself that each bad day was somehow unconnnected to the day before. Now he could see how stupid that was, and how shit everything was, and he wanted to go to bed and not get up until the weekend. (129-130)
That Marcus is a geeky, awkward, twelve-year-old white boy who is being tormented by bigger and older white boys is irrelevant. Bullying and white privilege are both about maintaining the power of a stronger group over a weaker group. Unlike Marcus, we don’t have Will shouting to make this point to us; like I said earlier, we now have social media and a 24-hour news cycle. It’s impossible for us to kid ourselves that each new incident is someow unconnected to the incident before. I’m not suggesting that there is some vast right-wing conspiracy to oppress and suppress people of culture (Steven Bannon and Jeff Sessions aside); rather, I’m suggesting that the centering of whiteness is woven into our culture at a very basic level, and that it will take a lot of work to unweave those elements while at the same time weaving a cultural fabric that is stronger and more durable.7
If you have followed me this far, you are probably convinced that white privilege is real. And you probably have friends or family who deny its existnece. “No way—I’ve earned everything I have” is the refrain. I don’t disagree with that refrain; I’ve often heard brown people say it too. The thing is, privilege of any sort is a multiplier—depending on who you are, it either multiplies your efforts by a factor greater than one (you get more out than you put in) or it multiplies your efforts by a factor less than one (you get less out than you put in). So yes, you’ve earned it, by dint of your work. But like earning interest just by putting money in a bank, whites earn a lot more interest for their work investment than people of color do. But privilege as the a mathematical phenomenon is the subject of another post. (You can learn a lot by googling “racial disparity in…” or “gender disparity in…” at your leisure.)
While we’re at it, I should point out that there are other types of privilege besides white privilege. Again, that’s the subject of another post.
I should point out that I’m not blaming anyone for being white. Nobody should feel guilty about being the color they are, because that’s not something anybody has any control over. But just mention white privilege and all sorts of people crawl out of the far-right woodwork whispering “white guilt”. (Of course, these days, the far right isn’t so far to the right as it used to be. Sometimes it’s in the next room.)
However, if you are white and feeling a little or a lot bad about this phenomenon, that’s not a bad thing. The far-right and alt-right might call it “white guilt”. Most of humanity just calls it a conscience.
What you do have control over is in choosing not to perpetuate white privilege. Remember that opportunity is not spread equally across all sectors of our society.
Finally, I’m going to turn this over to my fellow POC who have blogs and websites and ask them to document a handful of incidents of how they have experienced white privilege. We can now crowd-source the documentation of our collective experience, and there is value in doing so. My dream is that some day people of all colors will look back at our writings and be utterly anuable to comprehend how we could have mistreated each other so badly.
Join me, won’t you?
1The point is that just because we’re “other,” we’re not all alike. We are all different people with different experiences. We are not a monolith, even if others often think of us that way.
2This is emblematic of the key difference between North and South in the US when it comes to racism. Racism in the south is largely overt—if someone doesn’t like you, you know it, and if they treat you decently, it’s because they don’t have a problem with you. You can, for the most part, take people at face value. In the north, however, racism is largely covert—people will be nice to your face, even if they hate your guts because your skin is the wrong color. As a result, it’s a lot harder to figure out where white people stand in the north. They might be acting like a douchebag because they don’t like you or because they’re actually a douchebag who treats everybody that way, regardless of their skin color. You just don’t know. If you’ve ever wondered why so many people of color, especially African-Americans, choose to remain in the South, this is part of the reason.
3Someday we need to sit down and have a big long talk about why white people are always afraid that brown people who are speaking in a language other than English (i.e., one they don’t understand and have no intention of learning) are always talking about them. Some of it has to do with the way whiteness is centered in this culture, and some of it, I’m sure, has a little to do with this:
4I’ll tell you which high school kids aren’t out there looking for a summer job—rich kids. We have a lot of race issues in this country, but we also have a lot of class issues, and we ignore them both at our peril.
5You might think there is something ironic about a person of Mexican descent working at Taco Bell, but 1) I needed a job, and 2) Taco Bell rocks! No, these aren’t tacos like my grandmother used to make (in fact, I don’t remember my grandmother ever serving tacos), but they are tasty!
6That’s not to say that there weren’t actors of color on these series, because there were. But having a diverse cast of actors is not the same thing as having a diverse cast of characters. It’s one thing to have a black actor portraying a black character; it’s entirely another thing to have an actor of color playing an alien who is angry and violent, or an alien who is secretive and inscrutable, or an alien who is greedy and materialisitc, or an alien who matches some other western stereotype of a minority. It never fails to shock me at how some portrayals of alien species align almost perfectly with stereotypes of a particular minority, and how okay white people are with that. In fact, most of them don’t even notice it until you point it out to them, and even then they still have trouble seeing it. Science fiction may be progressive in some ways, but as a reflection of the people who create it, it can also be incredibly backward.
7If western history teaches us anything, it’s that diversity tends to make nations stronger, while a lack of diversity (generally by internal suppression of minorities) makes nations weaker. The Roman Empire, after all, was strongest in its first two centuries, when it was the most diverse and the most accepting of other cultures, races, and religions. It was weakest when the Christian leadership attempted to suppress all other religions and cultures. There were other mitigating circumstances (barbarian invasions, namely), but the earlier, stronger empire could have withstood those. In fact, the earlier, stronger empire would have embraced and incorporated barbarians on the borders.
Hornby, Nick. About A Boy. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998. Print.
Lakin Hutcherson, Lori. “What I Told My White Friend When He Asked For My Black Opinion On White Privilege.” The Huffington Post. July 17, 2016: . Web.