What does it mean to be White or act White?

14 05 2008

 

I have learned that the term white is given to Americans of European descents that are assimilated to the “American way of life”. I have friends born in Latin America of European parents and that are not considered White, I don’t really understand why.

 

For some people being white means to be embarrassed or feel guilt for what your ancestors or the ancestors of other whites did. I think that is not fair. I understand that white people in the US have advantages that others don’t, but they have no control over what their ancestors did 50 and 100 years ago.

 

I also don’t agree with those that promote and practice racism of any kind. I believe that there is an inherent prejudice in people raised in the US, just by the fact of growing in such a racialized society, but it is something that people can become aware, acknowledge and overcome.

 

I have asked around and have concluded that acting white means that you are acting outside the racial stereotype assigned to you.

 

But what does it really mean to be white? And how about White privilege?

 

I read an essay by Peggy McIntosh, where she analyses what it means to be white, here is an excerpt. 

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.

 

Photo by Roanne Sharp

 

This portion brings it home to me, I hope it does to you as well. 

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

50. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

You can find the rest of her essay here

 

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5 responses

14 05 2008
Godfather

Great Post!

Godfather (theslowbleed.com)

15 05 2008
johnnypeepers

The constant attention thrust on pigment differences, historical racism, and the insignificant differences between people of varying ethnic backgrounds is the “real” problem. What we manifest we will become. If our society dwells on the ills of the past (and present) as it relates to bigotry and racism, we will never achieve MLK’s dream for a color-blind society.

The article is directed more towards upper class educated Whites with money. There is great discrimination against the poorer classes (Whites included). All Whites benefit to a degree with the structured society that is designed for their benefit, but it is more complicated when the White person is of a lower standing financially.

The U.S. is a very fragmented society that pretends underlying racial problems do not exist. You can see it by how self-identifying groups herd together socially or at work. Innately, people feel more comfortable with those of a shared background, experience, or culture. Unfortunately, these associations tend to insulate them from the other groups.

Just like Stephen Colbert, I do not see race. Race is an meaningless construct whose sole purpose is to sow division and discord. I am glad that you tackle these issues. Due to political correctness and fear, many in this country wouldn’t dream about blogging about stereotypes such as these. It is a good thing we have unabashed new citizens who can critique their new home and peoples without shame of what the “others” will thank.

17 05 2008
Sweetangel16175’s Weblog

[...] https://mylifeasanalien.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/what-does-it-mean-to-be-white-or-act-white/ sweetangel16175 @ 6:57 pm [filed under Uncategorized [...]

28 01 2009
expat21

It’s a very interesting list.

Expat 21

3 02 2010
kim

One point of clarification to the poster: King did not dream of a “colorblind” society. King worked, marched, fought and died for a just society. Big difference.

Don’t believe the McDonald’s version of who he was: read his work and study him for yourself.

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