Why Don’t White People Talk About Race?

17 Jan

Why don’t white people talk about race?

I don’t really know, but I do know why I haven’t talked about race in my life, and I’ll make a gross assumption that I’m not alone.

Here are five reasons why I haven’t talked about race:

1. I don’t want to sound racist myself.

Talking about race and racism has a “Whoever smelt it dealt it,” type of feeling. If you mention race at all—you’re a racist. People say, defensively, “That’s racist!” And like most people, I would never want people to think I was that kind of person or had racist thoughts whatsoever. So there have been many times where I just didn’t bring it up at all.

2. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

Seattle is a very liberal city (we just passed equal marriage laws and legalized marijuana). It’s pretty easy for me to assume that most people feel similarly about religion and politics. However, when the subject of race comes up with white people, I’ve noticed an awkward shift in the energy of a room.

A couple of years ago I went to a holiday party with my husband and got into a conversation about local schools with another couple. The husband mentioned that he would only send his children to his alma mater because it was the best public school in the city. I replied, “Yeah, that’s true if you’re white.” This school has a reputation for being an AP magnet where white kids thrive and many students of Color are kept out of AP and receive a mediocre education. There was an uncomfortable silence, and we didn’t talk any more the rest of the night.

Sometimes, I find myself stumbling over the words I use or politely agreeing to keep the mood light when discussing race. This makes me feel limited because I think it’s an important thing to talk about. But if no one else wants to have that conversation, who am I really talking to?

3. I had a bad experience.

In high school, I was groped at a bus stop on my way to making posters to run for sophomore class president. Several weeks later the incident came up in my language arts class and I said something along the lines of, “Last week this tall black guy grabbed my boob on the way to school.” My teacher began to ream me for mentioning his race and told me I sounded like a racist. A classmate poured it on and said, “Why does he have to be a black guy? Why can’t he just be a guy?” I felt like an idiot for saying anything and never talked about it again.

4. I don’t want to be that person.

You know, the person who’s always bringing up race. It ruins the fun, right? But it makes me think deeply about what’s happening around me, and many times what I find doesn’t feel very good. In graduate school, I had professors who would get visibly irritated when I asked questions about race, even though I was in a program that focused on social justice. Then I would get angry and hate the class. I was always that girl—and sometimes it sucks to be that girl.

5. I don’t have to talk about race.

Because I’m white, I get to chose when and if I acknowledge race. I can stay in the parts of town I want to, and I don’t have to leave my white bubble if I don’t want to. This is the biggest reason why I haven’t talked about race in my life. I simply don’t have to.

I’ve said offensive things about race before and will probably do so again. I’ve stayed silent when I should have said something, and I’ve spoken up only to feel extremely stupid later. Now, I’m choosing to not let the fear of screwing up or saying the wrong thing get in the way of facilitating a conversation about race. It’s that important to me.

So I have to ask: Do you talk about race with other white people? 

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29 Responses to “Why Don’t White People Talk About Race?”

  1. Margaret January 19, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Can I just say that I love your blog? As a white person who’s had similar thoughts & experiences but rarely talked about them out loud, I really admire your honesty & courage! I’m especially appreciative as a new adoptive mom of a bi-racial child. Thanks for starting this conversation.

    • White Mom January 20, 2013 at 1:05 am #

      Margaret thank you so much! It’s amazing how scary/liberating it is to throw some of these thoughts out into the world. I’ve been really blown away by how much people want to talk about this stuff. Thanks for visiting and I want to read more about how things are going with your guy!

  2. demogirl06 January 22, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Do I ever talk about race? All the effing time. But only with white people (safety zone). Or… I talk about one race to someone of a different race all together. I have noticed that as I have gotten older, I care less and less about how others might judge me for my racially significant comments–because I can say first hand, as a traveler, that the less you look and behave like a people, the more shit you get from them. Being in the minority takes a great deal more effort to ensure safety, to avoid sexual harassment, and to be taken seriously.

  3. Eric January 23, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    As a black male, I think you nailed it with #5. Whites are still a majority in this country (even considering a plurality of minorities), so even less economically advantaged whites enjoy the privilege of not having to think about their color. I’m constantly aware of mine… not in a negative, us vs. them way, but simply in a “am I being perceived as a threat?” way. Re-electing a controversial black President has made the tension more palpable.

    With majority numbers and socioeconomic status comes assumptions. I’ve often heard white friends say things like “we’re all alike, why the focus on race?”. But the truth is we have remarkably varied differences in culture, values, and priorities. And to add to that point, how do you celebrate diversity if we’re all alike?

    Thanks for your blog and honest dialog.

    Peace 🙂

    • White Mom January 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      Thank you for your comment- I really appreciate the insight. I get “why does it have to be about race” pretty often. Along with questions about affirmative action, classism and the end of racism because of the election and reelection of President Obama. I think once we (white folks) can acknowledge that we do have a culture amongst ourselves we can stop normalizing “whiteness” as (for lack of a better term) the norm. Keep reading and commenting- I love the dialogue!

  4. Essence of Del January 25, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    Interesting to come across your article at this time. I lived in Oregon for 6yrs. During that time I became friends with my neighbor who is Jewish (White), I am Black. I left Oregon 6yrs ago, but we’ve stayed in touch and we get together when I visit my son who attends college in Oregon. This week my friend shared an article with me since we have been talking about the presidential election and the inauguration (she loves the Obamas). The article is written by Tim Wise (yes, he’s white) on the subject of White Privilege. It is a great article and you can tell that he’s done his research. Anyway, it just so happens that my son recently told that his girlfriend (Caucasian) does not like when he brings up race, nor does she understand when he tells her that he has to always be on alert when he’s in the vicinity of the police. She doesn’t understand the the police will just harass and or search him just because he’s black, one of a small number of black college students in Eugene. Yes, that mess still goes on in Eugene, Oregon.

    My friend said she knows what it’s like to be made fun of and feel bad because when she was young kids teased her because she was Jewish. She also shared that she will never claim to understand what it’s like to be Black or what it feels like to live through our experience, but she believes that everyone should have this information about White privilege and learn from it. She’s has always been a good friend to me.

    Thank you for sharing your views and yes, I agree, not only children need to be aware that this still goes on in today’s society, but all adults also need to be exposed to the information.

    Here are the articles written by Tim Wise (found on the redroom.com)

    Part One:
    http://redroom.com/member/tim-wise/blog/explaining-white-privilege-to-the-deniers-and-the-haters

    Part Two:
    http://redroom.com/member/tim-wise/blog/this-is-your-nation-on-white-privilege-updated

  5. RightFromYaad January 25, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    It is very unfortunate the racial double standards that exist in America. Recently, a prominent Black ESPN sportscaster asked the question: “Is ‘so and so’ (QB for the Wash Redskins) ‘Black’ enough?”

    As a Black Jamaican from the West Indies I get very irritated by Blacks in America wanting other Blacks to be ‘brothers’ and ‘down for the cause’, as this sportscaster mentioned in the same broadcast. Of course if you are black and just so happened to be conservative, right-wing republican or anything non-liberal or democrat then you are see as a traitor, or labelled ‘white Rice’ (in the case of Condi Rice as Sec of State under GWB), or questioned if you are a ‘Cornballed Brotha” as ‘so and so’ was, compounded by him having a white girlfriend.

    Can you imagine if a white sportscaster doubted the “whiteness” of a star player? “Is he white enough”? He would be out of a job before the broadcast was over.

    Blacks get away with this sort of behaviours because of ‘white guilt’ and playing heavily on victimhood by society. The Black sportscaster is set to resume his substantive post, after a 30 day suspension for his appalling comment. In general, there is no one to rein in guys like him, lest you be labelled racist yourself. I am personally appalled that the vision of MLK has been highjacked by black (and white) opportunists.

    KF

  6. Just Me With . . . January 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    I’m black, and I’ve always said that my best white friends were the ones who acknowledged that I am black.

  7. Necessity is the Mother of Invention January 25, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    I think that white folks always have the out — we can talk about race or not, but ultimately we have to deal with our silence, if that is what we choose. I do think that it is risky to continue to be the voice, but it is imperative that white folks enter the conversation, since the ones with power have to be part of dismantling that power structure. Talking about it is only the first, and simplest, step.

  8. Neil Rickert January 25, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    If you mention race at all—you’re a racist.

    Yes, that’s a problem.

    We badly need a national conversation about race, but it is so hard to get one going.

    Thanks for starting this blog.

  9. Rachennial January 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    I really love this blog. I grew up in a Bay Area suburb, what’s been named the most diverse place in America recently by HuffPost. I’m really proud of that, I won’t lie. I commented on another post, but I growing up I was very self-aware of ‘white privilege’, it was just a reality. Whites need to fess up to this, it’s just a fact. I agree too that a re-elected black president is making tensions worse. I’m a true centrist– I don’t consider myself ‘liberal’ (i.e. congrats on the legalization of marijuana, Washingtonian 😉 But Republicans have been horribly blind to race issues. I’ve always voted democratic because of this.

    “However, when the subject of race comes up with white people, I’ve noticed an awkward shift in the energy of a room.” I love this point because after living in the Northwest for several years (even though Seattle is sort of an exception) it’s the most white region in the US. So politics has nothing to do with the self-awareness of ‘white-privilege’ in my opinion. It’s across the spectrum. Actually white liberals were sometimes the worst at NOT recognizing how privileged they were, to be honest.

    Please follow back 🙂 socalledmillennial.com

  10. Jean January 26, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    You would be wise to partner up with white parents of adopted biracial or black, Asian children. You will get a more full-rounded perspective…it gets more complicated for those situations on race, parenting and cultivating positive self-identity for the children long term. I stress for these adopted children because if it isn’t about them, then there’s no point being a parent for such adopted children ….OR to have (give birth to) and raise biracial children.

    Great that you tried the dialogue for #2.

    I should add I am a proud aunt of 7 nieces and nephews ages 26 to 2 from 3 siblings: 4 of them are Chinese-Caucasian. I so strongly advise white parents with white children, stop and listen to the parents of biracial children because those situations can be challenge.

  11. Crazy Chess Girl January 27, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    If a white guy groped you, would you have said “I was groped by some white guy”? No.

    I came across your blog accidentally and find it very strange. You are seriously defining yourself as a white mom with a white baby? I understand that you are blogging about race but perhaps I am missing the irony. Why would you have such a white supremist title? Most readers just see the title and don’t even read the content so most of them probably never get to understand your point and probably realise that you are not being racist at all. Perhaps this is some kind of American joke but for the rest of the world, especially non English native, this can appear purely offensive. So you are just putting the fuel into the fire which should not be burning in the first place. I am glad that you are white and I am glad that your baby is white too. But we need to stop drawing the lines and putting people in boxes. Skin colour should not matter. It does not define a person. If you think that defines you, then you think that being yellow, black, brown, purple defines others also. And then we are just back in the square one, where we were hundred years ago. I wish you all the best.

    • White Mom January 27, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

      I was very deliberate when I named this blog White Mom Blog for a couple reasons. First, one of my goals was to call attention to the idea that in the United States- motherhood is incorrectly synonymous with being white. Another reason is that people of Color are almost always labelled by the color of their skin when white people are not. Also, out of the top 100 mommy blogs only about 5 are written by women of Color and they all reference their race in the name of their blog. I’m choosing to call attention to my race because whiteness shouldn’t be the default setting.

      Skin color shouldn’t matter- but it does here. I’m asking white women to examine how they think about race (myself included) in the context of motherhood, whiteness and beyond.

      You’re more than welcome to dislike the title of the blog but it’s certainly not white supremacist.

      Finally, I wouldn’t have said “I was groped by some white guy” now. But that’s not the point. The point is that I was yelled at for talking about it and I never talked about it again. This is how a lot of race conversations end.

      I’m glad you still read the posts even though the title offended you so much.

      • Crazy Chess Girl January 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

        I am just curious. Could you please expand in what you mean on the motherhood in the United States is being synonymous with being white? I never heard of it.

        Also, I had no idea that there are more blogs out there where women use their race in reference to their title. Perhaps then your title is not that strange after all.

    • travels with mary January 27, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      in an ideal world, you’re right, skin color shouldn’t matter. but I, as a white person, don’t get to decide when this happens in society. you can’t erase racism just by saying “let’s ignore the color of our skin and move on!” this is something that totally needs to still be addressed and recognized. personally, I think it’s more offensive to ignore race than to point it out.

      • Crazy Chess Girl January 27, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

        Problems need to be ignored or addressed. But I do not see race being as a problem. People who act in harmful ways towards others because of the colour of their skin is the problem.

      • travels with mary January 27, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

        You’re right, the human construct of “race” isn’t a problem, it’s the “harmful ways”– but we can’t talk about racism without discussing race. You can’t enter a conversation about class, racism, or privilege without situating yourself somewhere.

        I think (please correct me if I’m wrong), WhiteMomBlog is trying to raise questions about the cookie-cutter mommy blogs that are all over the internet. I’ve seen tons of blogs that all look basically the same, but WhiteMomBlog is calling that pattern into question. It’s interesting to look at our expectations of the intersection between motherhood, blogging, and race.

    • travels with mary January 27, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

      (I couldn’t reply directly to you, but I posted a response to you below! these issues are so important to discuss, and I think your opinion is totally valid, so I didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle.)

      • White Mom January 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

        I think (please correct me if I’m wrong), WhiteMomBlog is trying to raise questions about the cookie-cutter mommy blogs that are all over the internet. I’ve seen tons of blogs that all look basically the same, but WhiteMomBlog is calling that pattern into question. It’s interesting to look at our expectations of the intersection between motherhood, blogging, and race.

        YES! Exactly- thank you!

    • Rachennial February 21, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

      “If a white guy groped you, would you have said “I was groped by some white guy”? No.” Actually, YES you would depending on the culture of where you live. I was called “white” plenty of times growing up, and even described other people as “white” because there was a high representation of all races. I think the name of the blog is brilliant in that it DOES capture attention, and starts the discussion of race. Because you don’t hear the word “white” being thrown around in a mostly-white culture.

      • Crazy Chess Girl February 22, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

        But do you hear “yellow” being thrown around in an Asian culture?

        I used to differentiate people by race because this is something very noticable about each of us (not as much as when someone has green or brown eyes) until it started being all “politically incorrect”. But after living some time outside of the US, I am starting to reconsider a constant fear of being politically incorrect.

  12. annabanana210 January 27, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    I talk about race with anyone that feels comfortable enough to ask me about it. I feel that people’s concepts of race come from education, socialization and experience.

  13. travels with mary January 27, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    I am SO EXCITED I found this blog as you’re just starting this journey– I’m in a diversity course right now for my doctorate in Education and I’m a white married woman and I definitely struggle talking about race or labeling myself. In my class, we have a rule called the “ouch/oops” in which we’re allowed to say whatever we need to say, even if we can’t find the words, and if we happen to offend someone, then they say “ouch.” You reply “oops” and keep moving. (Later, you can return to the topic to clarify and hopefully get a better sense of the offense.)

    I love it because it takes a little of the pressure off when we talk about race. I’m frightened of being held to my word or never having the right vocabulary, but I need to get over that hurdle and just talk– the maturity of conversation will come later.

  14. Ashley Clarke January 28, 2013 at 7:16 am #

    I am black and come from a good background in England, I got a sports scholarship at a fee paying school, so spend a lot of my time growing up around people who were white. From my experience all white people do is talk about race, its not in a racist way but in a pretty ignorant way. I dont think of myself as that black guy but you can be sure other people see me as that, in that sense I had to develop a big personality otherwise my role in whatever social fabric I was in was the role of a black guy. You get your friends or your team mates in sport asking questions like “can I say the N word?” and you have no idea how many times ive been asked that question. Now I cant be sure what happens when white people talk about race together but I have an idea since I do have a white girlfriend and she says she gets asked some pretty odd questions too. Apparently one of her lovely friends asked, “does he have a visa?” and another, “is it true you cant go back?” and I just shake my head, not in disgust but pity. What a shame it is that these people could not look past the colour and questions such as “does he treat you right?” or “where’d you see you two heading?” Thank god her family seem more accepting.

    • Crazy Chess Girl February 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

      I am surprised that someone in this day of age would still ask such a dumb question whether they can use an N word.

      Regarding to the questions of visa, immigration status and so on, a lot of people experience it when living in a foreign country despite of their colour. All you have to do is open your mouth and people will judge you if you have an accent. There is a lot of prejudice against white people from developing countries as well, but I guess if they keep their mouths shut, they manage to melt in better in highly populated white societies.

  15. Maya January 29, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    I find your blog to be a refreshing discourse on race and racial matters. As a bicultural (half White and half Latina) woman I’ve always recognized the importance of the discussion, but am cognizant of how uncomfortable it makes people feel. I wrote up a piece called “You Sound Like A White Girl” on my blog and it was scary to publish it! It tells the story of how people have always told me I “sound white” throughout my life. Their impression is because I am Latina, I should surely speak English with an accent, even though I was born in New York City and went to very good schools.

    I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you doing this. I know how scared I felt to just write one blog post about it. I admire that your entire blog is dedicated to this. It is so, so necessary.

    Thank you.

    • White Mom January 30, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      Thank you and thanks for sharing. It does feel a little bit like my guts are exposed. Definitely unnerving. Race is tough to talk about. I’m looking forward to your opinions in future discussions.

  16. notmyidealife January 29, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    In my workplace, I am the minority. I am the “token” or the 10% they needed. I am not black. I feel so hurt by the racist comments that I keep silent. So no, I don’t discuss race. I am scared to voice my opinions or questions at times that make my personality wilt. I battle with the incompetence and ignorance of the prejudice. I used to love my job…for the kids, until I really got to know my co-workers and parents.

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Bicultural Familia

Celebrating familia & culture in South Texas.

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