Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ah, just what we *don't* need more of...

...namely, another white woman's views on racism. I realize that my life is full of white privilege, regardless of how many aspects of it are negated by other circumstances of my life, and that a white person's views of racism are nowhere near as valid as those of a person of colour. But part of the reason I started this blog was to work through ideas that I'm struggling with, and though I know that at times I will probably verge on (or cross the line of) cluelessness and offensiveness, and apologize for the same in advance, this is an idea that I'm struggling with—and an idea that, if anyone actually does read this blog, I would dearly love to get some feedback on.

What prompted this particular post is the fact that I recently spent about five days in Chicago. The Black population there is much higher than it is in my comparatively tiny city, and most of the people who I encountered as store clerks, waitstaff at restaurants, hotel employees, etc. were Black or Hispanic—mostly Black. Every time I found myself being served by one of them, I felt very distinctly uncomfortable. I had, and have, no objection to the people themselves; it's just that I'm very much aware that white people have been, and still are, the cause of a lot of suffering for anyone who isn't white. The fact that the people I encountered are paid for what they do didn't do anything to lessen my discomfort—I actually felt unworthy of their help. Since I became aware of the concept of white privilege, I've been deeply ashamed of having it, and the added racial dynamic to the service provider/customer relationship was deeply disturbing to me. I did my best to not be just another white racist asshole, but because I was so uncomfortable to begin with, I'm not sure I always succeeded.

And it doesn't help that to a very large degree, I still fail to understand racism. I have a fairly good understanding of the damage that it does, and even experienced it myself to a certain degree (though arguably it wasn't real racism in my case, just an occasionally unfriendly bias against non-Italians in a school where most other students were of Italian descent, and justifiable hostility by First Nations people towards a white person at a pow-wow—my family was there because we were invited by a friend who lived on the reserve, but even so, fifteen years later I still wonder if we had any right to be there, and several people made it clear that they felt we most definitely did not have that right). What I don't understand is the motivation behind it. Why hate someone with a different skin colour? Why perpetuate harmful stereotypes that make life difficult for people whose bodies produce larger amounts of melanin than a white person's does? Why be cruel to people whose physical features show that all, or at least a significant part, of their ancestry is not from select places in Europe? There's no logic in that. There's no good reason for it. It simply is, and I have never understood it.

One of the few good things that I encountered in my Catholic school years was the message that we're all God's children, equal in dignity and worth. It stuck so well with me that it's still one of the core points of my philosophy. And if we're all equal in the eyes of the Divine, how can I hate anyone, especially for something that is so far beyond anyone's control as their ancestry is? I can't. I can hate people's actions, and I can form a deep dislike of people because of their actions. Hating people for their race...I just don't understand why people do it, and perhaps that makes me a worse ally to people of colour (if I could even be called one in the first place, that is) than someone who does understand it.