Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I am a privileged white girl

Something I wrote back in April, after reading an amazing book:

I've had many mini-ephiphanies over the past couple of months for me on the subject of race relations. I was introduced to author and anti-racism activist Tim Wise through a member of the TS message board, and friend, Bruce. I recently read Wise's book, "White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son", and was completely blown away. It was not an easy book to read, not in the slightest. Reading his story, and having experienced the same sorts of opposition to my viewpoints, it felt good to know that I'm not the lone white person in the world who is starting to get a better understanding of racism in the United States .

Probably the biggest lesson I had to learn is that I don't know shit. Sure, I had discovered a new awareness of the blatant racism that is still so prevalent in this country. I found I had done nothing more than scratch the surface, not even drawing blood. It wasn't even about racism, really. I was-am- learning about the realities of white privilege. This is not an easy thing for anyone to come to terms with, but what I worked out when I think about my own past and path, is that 99%, if not 100%, of the reason I am where I am today, is because I'm a privileged white person.

I didn't have the best of upbringings. Abused as a child, whole family broken apart, ending up a ward of the state, in foster care. Sure, it was hard, emotionally. Wouldn't wish what happened to me on anyone, and I'm real lucky I have come out of it not having turned into a freaking loon. I've always had an open mind though, and open to pretty much whatever comes my way. I took to therapy well. I was in a shelter for all of three months, before moving in with my foster parents.

Three months. My time in the shelter was quite, well, privileged. A lot of security measures were bent for me. I was still able to attend the same high school, and take the public bus to school each day. They were not worried about me running away. When we needed to attend the Boys and Girls Club for summer camp, I became a volunteer counselor instead of just an attendee. I would like to think that this is because I displayed a more level head than the other kids in the shelter, and was the oldest (17) child there, but now I'm not so sure that was the only reason.

Three months. Then I moved into a foster home, where the family was licensed just for me. Just. For. Me. I was all ready spending weekends with them before I officially moved too. The whole situation was very lax. Even the final inspection was a breeze, just a formality really. I know without a doubt now that it's because of my skin color. I mean, come on! 17 year old white girl. Doesn't smoke, doesn't drink (then, not now!), doesn't use drugs. Doesn't run away from places, always followed the rules. Moving into a foster home where there are two PhD holders, and two children heading off to major Universities. In my new view, and the beauty of hindsight, I know without a doubt, things would have been a whole lot worse if I had been a person of color.

Now, you might think I have some "white guilt" thing happening now. Really, it's not a matter of feeling guilt. It is what it is. The key here is the awareness of the dynamics of the situation. Obviously, I can't do anything about my skin color. It would be pretty stupid to feel guilty about my skin color. After all it's not like I had a choice in the assembly line. I do feel a sort of shame towards my fellow white folk, when I see the ignorance that still reigns in this country. Ignorance that, quite frankly, I think is purposeful. They want to remain ignorant, in order to not have to face the problem at hand. Ignorance is bliss, indeed.

Tim Wise led me to a whole new set of people who speak on the subject. Speak loudly, I might add. This is one of the amazing things about the internet, and blogging. In a sense, it breaks down barriers. Other than Wise, three other blogs that have made my blogroll so I can track them are The Angry Black Woman (LOVE her tag line!), The Field Negro, and The Free Slave.

Even more than Tim Wise, even more than any white person, these people have the right to tell it as it is, and they do. Free Slave all ready gave me good thoughts about whether I should vote for Barack Obama because he's black. There is another entry he did recently that really made me think and consider everything about who I am (GOD I love thinking!!):

Who are you?

What are you?

What is your primary identity?

What ethnic, racial, nation-state do you identify with?

Or do you identify with none at all?

Who am I? Well, that's easy. Danielle Regina Piwinski Cutler. What am I, my primary identity? I go back and forth on that. Is my primary identity more woman, than white? I really don't know. As for an ethnic identity, I know I am Polish. 100%. However, do I identify with my ethnicity? No. I practice nothing that pertains to the Polish heritage. I couldn't even tell you a Polish holiday, or a Polish ritual. I know next to nothing about my heritage, other than I know that I am 4th generation Polish-American. My great-grandparents were the first immigrants who came over from Poland . Other than knowing a few words in Polish, and having a weakness for Perrogies and Kabasa, telling people I'm Polish is nothing more than a word in terms of meaning.

Do you ever ask yourself who and what you are, who and what you are supposed to be and whether you are being your truest self?

I don't. This is the very first time I really ever thought about it for any significant amount of time. And by significant, I do not mean just in this entry, tonight. This has been mulling around for a few months now, and what I'm learning is that as someone who has no clue about her own heritage, I have no right to assume I know anything about the heritage or the struggles of others.

But I want to learn. I want to understand. What studying race relations in the US and white privilege has done for me, is made me more sensitive to things I do not understand. Leveled the arrogance I had simply by being white. Arrogance I didn't even know was there.

Perhaps by learning more about the history of things, and how they connect to the present, we can all be more sensitive to these issues. Whether we understand them or not.

1 comment:

Maxjulian said...

Danielle, thanks for the linkage.

Becoming aware of another's experience is no easy matter but it requires, study in books and in self; really listening to one's prejudices when they arise. This expat white guy I met in Paris said something I've never forgotten. He said that in the States he observed racist thoughts passing through him - that weren't him. He was able to delineate the bullshit that we breathe in 24/7, from his belief system and that was one reason he needed to leave. I can relate. Its a process of looking and feeling and talking and reading and researching. And doing it all over again - forever. The price is high, but the payoff is an authentic human being.