Post from @VeryWhiteGuy
To my fellow very white people…
First, a little background. I am white – very white, in fact my twitter handle is @verywhiteguy. I grew up in what might be considered the whitest place on earth, Winnetka Illinois The racial diversity is 0.25% black – that is 1/4 of 1% black or roughly 2 dozen black people in the town of 12,000+. As should be obvious from the name of this blog, I am married to a black woman. We have been married for over 13 years.
Reading and tweeting about Ferguson and Mike Browns extrajudicial execution over the past 72 hours has compelled me to write this post for my fellow very white people. This is for all of us melanin challenged people. Regardless of how supportive we are, or what number of our friends are black, or even if like me, you’re married to a person of color – we’re still white, and this still needs to be understood.
White people can NEVER fully understand what it is like to be black in America.
Having been married to a black woman for 13 years I thought of myself as very understanding and empathetic to the struggle black Americans face. My black family members might say “Drew’s very white, but he has his black card”. Never the less, I STILL have to actively work against my own inclinations influenced by my white privilege. My wife and I attend a local health club that offers towel service, I pay for and have the service, she does not. She went in and requested a towel and was summarily dismissed as not having the service. I wasn’t there, I didn’t witness the incident, but when my wife told me later that she felt the incident was racially tinged – my immediate, knee jerk reaction was to suggest that it was not. I said, oh they probably didn’t mean it like that, or I haven’t felt that way. The point is – my wife of 13 years was telling me she felt a certain way about this and I still reverted to a frame of reference shaped by my very whiteness. Thankfully I came to me senses and apologized and told her that if she felt that way, then of course there must have been something there. I trust her implicitly and her experience and history as a black woman in American puts her in a far better position to gauge whether or not there was a racial component to that interaction at the health club.
Now, what does this have to do with Ferguson and Mike Browns murder?
I have seen well intentioned white people make comments online about what’s going on in Ferguson. Many white people truly WANT to understand and empathize – which is laudable. They are upset and outraged as well. But even the best intentioned white person can never fully understand nor relate to the black experience. Very white people, myself included, live our entire lives with a reinforcement history framed by being white in America, which is VASTLY different than being black in America.
For additional reading check out Aaron Overfield’s WWWPD? (What Would White People Do?)
The fact that my entire existence is framed by being white in America is the essence of white privilege. The fact that even after being married to a black woman for over a decade I still fail to see/identify the impact that my white privilege has on my frame of reference and thinking is white privilege myopia. My fellow white people we need to understand and appreciate that we can NEVER fully empathize with what its like being black in America. We can work hard to try and sympathize and understand, but we cannot empathize. We cannot mutually experience what it’s like to be black in America. It’s like trying to explain drowning to a fish. The concept isn’t just foreign, it’s literally impossible to experience.
White privilege myopia can come in all shapes sizes and forms. A recent twitter hasthtag #joshzeppsquestions is a collection of witty replies to one of the more egregious examples of white privilege myopia. Josh Zepps myopically tweeted “I don’t mean to be naive but, seriously…if you’re black, why stay in a racist shithole Missouri town? Massachusetts is a place, y’know.” That’s not just white privilege myopia, its out right ignorant…but I think he was serious.
Statements like “I just don’t understand why there was looting” or “why was he running” are the epitome of white privilege myopia. Unless you have lived in America as a black person with all the conditions that that entails we white people really have no right interjecting, dissecting or criticizing the actions of black citizens in Ferguson or elsewhere. When we do so, even when very well intentioned, we’re being myopic to our white privilege.
As such, we white people, CANNOT make comments or statements about what members of the black community should have done, how they should have been dressed, how they should seek justice, effect change in their own community or respond to the crisis unfolding in Ferguson. To do so is inappropriate and a form of white privilege myopia. And it should understandably be met with contempt and frustration from the black community. Don’t get it twisted I am not suggesting that white people should not try to understand, sympathize and support the black community. I simply am suggesting that we as white people with our backpack of white privilege should not forget just how much our frame of reference is shaped by being white. That is, to not be myopic to our own white privilege.
I have had to learn that when my wife is hurt in some way racially (which unfortunately is common), she doesn’t necessarily expect or need me to solve or fix it, but to just agree that what happened was hurtful. The city of Ferguson and the larger black community are hurting and before offering suggestions or comments please make sure we acknowledge that what is happening is hurtful and that as white people, we cannot possibly understand the level of frustration and hurt.
If you’re still reading – great, thanks for staying with me on this diatribe. If you’re asking what can I do to help? Start by checking out https://www.facebook.com/NMOS2014 the National Moment of Silence 2014 for locations where citizens across America will gather in solidarity to hold vigils and observe a moment of silence to honor victims of Police Brutality.
Further reading – http://www.theatlantic.com/personal/archive/2014/04/the-blue-period-an-origin-story/359968/
Very White Guy Drew