We white people need to get over ourselves, for the good of the country.

11 Jul 2016 02:01 am
Posted by: Donna

Late on a Saturday night back in 1999 I was at an IHOP in Scottsdale after club-hopping (I was young once!) with a group of friends. Prior to being seated I greeted a couple of coworkers, who happened to be African-American men, as they were leaving the restaurant. During a later conversation at the table with my friends I brought them up (don’t remember the context), describing them as “those black guys we saw earlier” or something similar. One of the guys in our group (we were all white) was a handsome schoolteacher I had a bit of a crush on. He asked me why I felt it necessary to point out that they were black.

Naturally I immediately realized I had erred and…no, of course I didn’t do that! I instead pouted and accused him of being too “politically correct” (not sure if I used that jerkass expression but wouldn’t be surprised if I did). He responded (paraphrasing to the best of my recollection) that he was trying to teach the kids in his classes to be aware of racism and that what I had done was an example how inequality is perpetuated. I remember knowing that he was right but that my pride wouldn’t let me admit it there and then and I don’t recall anyone at the table taking a side either way in the argument.

We didn’t end up dating (surprising, right?) but I do know that since then I have made a conscious effort not to mention a non-white person’s race if it has no relevance to the discussion at hand. Which simply means I try to describe everyone the same way I describe the white people I encounter the vast majority of the time. As people.

But to be clear, I’m not making a case for, as Stephen Colbert famously put it, “not seeing color”. That’s simply not possible and “colorblindness” is conceit designed to maintain the status quo*. I am saying that we white people need to think about the ways in which we put our feelings and self-image ahead of the lived experiences of people of color and to stop doing that.

I swear to god, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a white person insist that they couldn’t be racist because their parents taught them better, I could buy up all the IHOPs in Greater Phoenix. As if, just because a white person’s parents didn’t tolerate the use of the N-word in their presence and admonished their kids to treat everyone equally, they didn’t also establish and reinforce the othering of people of color in myriad ways (such as my learning from somewhere to describe people reflexively by their race if they weren’t white). If so many white American parents were doing such an excellent job of instilling anti-racist attitudes in their children, then so many black American parents would not have to be carefully coaching their children in how to act when a police officer approaches them, would they?

A lobbyist in Washington, D.C., Nicholson told ABC News today that ever since his sons were adolescents, he has been educating them about how to deal with law enforcement.

“I tell them, when you’re in the car and a white police officer pulls you over, put your hands on the dashboard or the steering wheel,” he said of his sons, who are biracial.

“Saying, ‘Sir’ helps. Hands visible helps. Even if you’ve got a Ph.D. from Harvard,” he added. “It’s about survival. I describe it as … making him feel at that time he’s in charge.”

I have been pulled over several times in my life while driving. Every time it was deserved. It never once occurred to me that I should address the officer as “sir” so as to increase my chances of surviving the encounter. You can’t colorblind that away.

*The Atlantic article I linked is a much more detailed and scholarly explanation of the problem with “colorblindness” than mine.

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