How can white Americans wake up to
how whiteness is taken for granted as the racial norm?
I used to think about race as something that pertained to African Americans or Latinos or Japanese Americans—i.e. anyone who didn’t have white skin. Caucasian or Euro American or White was something I might check on a form, but otherwise I assumed those terms had little to do with my life.
Living as I do in a nation born of and controlled by white-centric values and perspectives, that was a logical belief.
It was also wrong.
When I first read Peggy McIntosh’s classic article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” I was surprised at all of the ways my whiteness—my race—was at work in the daily details of my life. Ignoring it hadn’t made it irrelevant.
Despite what I’d assumed as a child, I’d absorbed racist thinking without my realizing it. While I had no conscious judgment of people with darker skin, the norm for everything was based in the experience and perspective of white people like me. I saw neighborhoods transforming and never thought about gentrification. I saw behaviors or fears of people of color that baffled me and seemed completely unfounded based on my own experience.
I had been asleep to the bigger picture and isolated in my own version of normal. Civil rights, I realized, were critical for all of us to be fully free. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
There is truth to the claim that race is a human-made classification system. However, governments and cultures have broadly incorporated and applied that system, giving people with white skin easier access to power, money, education and respect. The question today isn’t really about the biological reality but the lived one.
It was critical for me to notice my race and to see the effects of racism on my own life—not to help “those people” but for myself as a member of the human race. I choose to work for and to live in a world in which everyone can thrive.
I continue to dive deeper into race on my Big Topics Blog:
Lillie Pearl Allen, Nancy, Margherita Vacchiano
Be Present, Inc. gathering