I’m not sure how to talk about race as a whitish person (a white-looking mixed person). I want to be crystal clear here. Black experiences aren’t my experiences. I am not denied job interviews because people see an ethnic name on my resume. If a retail clerk approaches me, I don’t worry that it’s because they assume I’m shoplifting. If I’m stopped by the police, I assume it’s because of my speed or my brake light’s out and not because of the color of my skin.
I am a mixed person. Specifically, a mixed person with the benefit of having white skin, therefore white privilege.
Most of the discrimination I’ve dealt with has been from being a woman, not from my skin color. My hair maybe kinky curly, but my Irish complexion will always allow me to pass. My Haitian mother, grandmother, and cousins don’t have this luxury. Race colors their interactions. Any racism I’ve experienced has been secondhand, watching people’s disbelief when my mother says I’m her daughter and having waiters warn me about “these guys” while hanging out with my dark-skinned cousins and their friends.
I sat here today thinking about how I could begin to talk about race.
I could take a lighthearted approach like sharing this funny meme to illustrate my point.
Or I could provide you with a more in-depth perspective and share this required reading about it.
I could even show you this powerful (and frankly overwhelming) infographic:
But I don’t need to do anything like that because you can start by asking yourself intelligent questions. Next time a fellow human says that something is racially offensive to them, ask yourself why you get to decide what is hurtful to someone? Ask yourself why your opinion about their experience is more valid than their opinion about their experience? Ask yourself ?” Ask yourself why it’s easier to label someone as the “PC police” than it is to own your words and the mistakes you make with them? We’ve all said the wrong thing at the wrong time to someone before and someone has said the wrong thing to us at the wrong time before. Why is it so unfathomable that the same thing happens with racial discussions?
Being able to point out important truths about race via humor and arming ourselves with accurate studies and visual information is important. The facts are, and will always be important.
But understanding this problem starts with empathy. Similarity should not be a requirement for empathy. A person shouldn’t need to have the same experiences as you to be respected. Practice listening to the experience of the Other without saying anything. White people, it starts with us too–it can be anything from gently challenging your friends prejudicial ideas to vehemently calling them out on their racist bullshit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had white people assume it was “safe” to start talkin’ racial smack only to be shut down by yours truly. It’s just because racism is a family issue for me, but because I don’t want to let that shit slide anymore (because I have done so and I deeply regret it). I don’t want to make it safe for your racism. I want you to be challenged and forced to take responsibility for what you say. I don’t want you hiding “it’s just a joke” or for my silence to equal agreement with you.
I want those of us that can do better to do better. I want us to start having better collective conversations about so many things, especially race.
I want us to start with empathy.