I have a raging case of white guilt.
I don’t know how NOT to feel bad about being a privileged white girl.
And by privileged, I don’t mean that my family comes from money. No ma’am, no sir. At best, I’m upper lower-middle class, and I have an Ugly Condo in a modest Chicago neighborhood to prove it.
When I say privileged, I simply mean I’ve always been given the benefit of the doubt. I’m saying that being a well-educated, green-eyed white girl is not the most punishing journey one can take in this country.
I have come to believe that, over time, racism in America has stolen, hidden, or burned up many of the “boots with straps” available to black people in this country, the same straps the mostly-white-male politicians encourage us to pull up before climbing our way to the American Dream. To me, that’s like stealing someone’s paddles, then mocking them when they lose the canoe race.
(Help yourself to the amazing recent cover story of The Atlantic for a story about the political douchery of the Federal Housing Authority regarding race and property ownership. Or you can read a recent post of mine about gun control in Chicago, which contains a Cliff Notes version.)
I don’t know what to do with all the white guilt and shame I sometimes feel when I am around black people.
I do know that the way I AM handling it these days is not ideal. It looks something like this:
I recently stayed in a hotel in Milwaukee. I was traveling with people with disabilities, and needed every minute available to us in the morning I imagine that late check-outs are rather annoying for housekeeping staff when quotas and turnaround times are at odds with each other. I wanted to give the housekeepers a heads up.
I approached the towel-laden cart, with its buckets of sample bottles of shampoo/conditioner balanced against smokestacks of toilet paper rolls. All the housekeepers were black. Every one of them. 100%.
I felt uncomfortable about that. I wondered about the education that had been available to them. I wondered what their parents had done for a living. I worried about the quality of their kids’ schools. I wondered if their neighborhoods were left-behind carcasses of racist policies, like those on the south side of Chicago.
I wanted those ladies to know that, even though I was in a hotel where the rooms were $170 a night, I wasn’t “like that.” I wasn’t one of “those white hotel guests.” (Whatever the hell that is)
And I did this by assuming this weird posture of “Don't worry, I’m not a rich white girl because sooo blechhh, right?” (It’s hard to explain such an affect because it’s not a real thing. It's a random point of orientation inside my white-guilty head.)
And then I apologized.
Not directly. I didn't say, “Hey, I’m so sorry about checking out late but even moreso I’m just SO MAD that the housekeeping staff is all black and the patronage is mostly white and can I have some extra towels?”
I apologized with the look on my face. With the depressed tilt of my shoulders. With my phrasing. With an eye contact meant to connect and commiserate, “Oh yeah, girl. WE know, don’t we” I made myself small in a misdirected act: a reduction of spirit.
I took on this sheepish, scraping personality in an effort to telegraph to them that I didn’t think I was any better than them. (I mean, how pandering is that? How very “The Help” of me.) I’m not sure they got that message, anyway. I’m pretty sure they those ladies of La Quinta Inn just saw another apologetic, meek white girl with very bad nails.
And yet I do it all the time. I can’t even help it.
Pretending to be something I am not is not the answer.
Orienting myself around a rather broad generalization seems a little disingenuous; “a dumb idea based in good intentions” as I like to say.
Transferring the ‘-ism” to wealthy white folks isn’t cool. Judging a person solely based on their wealth is no different than judging a person by their skin color. (I suspect there are those who disagree with me on that: but I would remind them that the definition of “prejudice” is pre-judgement based solely on a condition.)
Apologizing for who I am is not the answer.
Asking for less than what I’m owed does nothing to further the cause. It only diminishes my experience, and reduces the possibilities I am worthy of, the gifts from from a universe that values everyone.
It also teaches my son the wrong lessons.
I just don’t know how to live with the shame.
(What's that you say? Treat everyone as equals? Well, yeah, but...how, then, will the housekeepers know that I know that racism is still very much alive and well in this country? How will they know that I can see it, too?)
That's my piece, and that's my peace. Thank you for taking the time to read my silly words. It means the world. Carry on...
Old Single Mom
** photo licence - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
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