All of the white things I did this weekend, followed by some of the thoughts I had about being a racist.
We all know weekends start on Thursday so I began with wine and cheese with some lovely ladies in my living room. There was a lot of Rose. A friend was in town for a “rock concert” (his words) so he popped by for a whiskey and chat at the end of the party and got to enjoy my line up of Mrs. Meyers scented products on my counter. Geranium is my favorite. He asked if it was a joke, and in the fact that anything can be a joke it was, but they did look like the worlds least effective army lined up on my re-done counter. Which is a bit of foreshadowing.
On the entertainment front we scored high marks Friday when we saw Guster at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Great (rock) show, great venue (even though my friend thinks the whole thing is like a lush green toilet bowl because the amphitheater in the round bottoms out in a giant drain.) While waiting for the concert to start I watched Oliver’s blond head circle the concert goers on the sidewalk above the grassy slopes. He walked and walked getting the steps necessary to incubate his Pokemon eggs. Or at least he walked until he stopped to catch a Pokemon.
On Saturday I saw Ghost Busters. I loved it. I lounged on my friend’s daybed on her covered patio sipping iced tea and plumping velvet pillows behind my head. We played the Paul Rudd game where we each picked the Paul Rudd movie that resonated most with us. If you can use Paul Rudd and resonated in the same sentence. Clearly you can because I just did. Twice. I picked Clueless. Obviously. Leo had picked Ant Man the night before (or technically, and Steve would want me to be technical, Steve pointed it out to him.) There were a few slapstick comedies in there and now the Fundamentals Of Caring which I thought would be an awkward love story between Selena Gomez and Paul Rudd but instead was a not so awkward story of how broken people can go a ways towards healing each other. (Also, hopefully, some foreshadowing) Not bad. In any case one of the players of the Paul Rudd game called him white bread and although I get her point I think he at least is the Enriched white bread. (Again with the foreshadowing.)
Sunday was a big day. I managed to squeeze in the entire final round of The
British Open, which would have been a nail biter if it wasn’t golf. The big appeal to The Open (in fact the British bit was added by the Americans once we started our own US Open with religious freedom and less tea) was that we watched it in bed. Steve never likes to be in bed relaxing during the day. I think he might be broken. In any case roughly once a year he makes an exception so I kept him company and Leo brought the French Press up from downstairs. (No foreshadowing, but a bit of remembrance of how our entire country was formed on the idea of freedoms if not the practice of freedom.)
During this stretch I downloaded some new games for my phone and did some extensive A B testing on “Merged” v. “Merged ++” In the end I opted for Merged ++ although I think those folks might have given themselves higher marks than they deserved. I’d offer them a Merged + and they should take that as generous. (Merged- good word, harbinger?) I sat by Steve while he tried to sort out our Showtime anywhere connection. It is pretty much Showtime nowhere. Also on the fritz (is that the word? I seem to have lost it) is Sirius radio. This I feel is a sign to get rid of it. With a shared car I often hop in to be yelled at either by something masquerading as music (Ska) or its close cousin the comedians who also seem to want to yell. EVERYTHING IS FUNNIER WHEN IT IS LOUDER. SEE.
That evening Steve and I took a stroll through the Community Garden and I pointed out all of the volunteer dill. Such a thrill. I revel in my life where I have the space to celebrate dill. That is a pretty good benchmark for security.
All of this is to say I might have had the whitest weekend in the world. If you weren’t already thinking it go back and review. Really.The only way it could have been more white is if we had played ultimate frisbee with our golden retriever and haggled over prices at estate sales only to leave behind the items at the last minute.
One of the reasons we moved to a city instead of a wealthy suburb was to give our kids a chance to have more diverse relationships than we had in Vermont. That said there are two non white teachers in my kids’ school, one is in administration (and left this summer) the other is a teacher’s aid (and, I think, left this summer.) Next year Oliver’s school is less than 50% white (including the assistant principal) and they have a close eye on the fact that as you walk the halls you can see through the 2 inch wide windows in the classroom doors which are the honors classes and which are not. If I had done a little research this might not have come as a surprise.
In my excellent suburban elementary school racial diversity was achieved through bussing. Which resulting in me inviting Tiffany from Rochester to my house exactly one time. The school did very little to integrate the kids from Boston with the kids from the suburbs. When we learned about the Civil Rights movement one of us (and I won’t name a name here) mentioned that we were closer to “separate but equal” than we were to real equality. That thought was hushed up pretty quickly.
My life has not changed that much. Oddly my friendships in Vermont more closely mirrored the demographic make up of the area. It was pretty much white, my friends were pretty much white. When we relocated I made the mistaken assumption that any urban area would have demographic diversity (aided by recess on the field across the street from my house the day we made our offer- the kids were 40% white- turns out those were middle school kids and they too were bussed in from other neighborhoods.) It was naive. Some of my friends argue that being a woman and being a jew make me closer to understanding the cleavage of identity and treatment that happens in today’s society. Whether it does on paper (and I would argue that it does not) it certainly doesn’t offer me insight in practice.
Even though I know every system is flawed I feel that my odds of being treated fairly are high. If I were arrested I imagine I would be treated legally. If I went to trial there would be a team of people looking out for my rights. I am protected by family, social status, and skin color. Although my earning potential might be pennies on the dollar of the people with dicks I haven’t really tested it because I have opted out of the workplace, something that isn’t possible for most people in our country. The closest thing I feel to discrimination surrounds mental illness. Unlike skin color most of us with diagnoses can (and do) hide our conditions. That is different problem that I am much more poetic about.
I tell you about my weekend because I realize that both my thoughts and behavior reinforce the status quo. When I read books that reveal the feeling rather than the fact of inequality I feel helpless. I read lists of things white people can do to help and wonder about their efficacy. I know I am racist. When I interact with someone of color I am more eager. I rush to open literal doors because I am lost trying to open figurative ones. I check myself when I have horrible thoughts that come from a world of difference. When I see a person of color stepping out of a car in my wealthy leafy neighborhood I imagine he or she is there to clean or work on a house. Mostly I am right. So instead of tamping it down like my third grade teacher did with the observation of our school’s separate but equal practices I am noticing. I am noticing the caricatures of black people even in cartoons. Somehow the animals in secret life of pets had races even though they were animals and animated and those races reinforced roles that I wish didn’t exist. But wishing doesn’t get things done. The black Ghost Buster was the only one without a science degree. She was sassy and street wise. In a film that directly took on stereotypes (there was a blond beefcake as the dumb secretary in a reversal of the blond bombshell) they left this one in tact.
This weekend I came up with a plan to use the power of my whiteness to effect a tiny slice of change. The Science Technology Engineering and Math elective at Oliver’s new middle school is as pale as the marshmallows that Leo threw around the room at the last (and LAST) sleepover. My school wants Oliver. Even though it is a public school the principal is actively lobbying for the rich white neighbors to send their kids to it rather than private schools or one of the other specialized choices. He is responsive to each email and each visit. He is wooing the parent’s from my elementary school with dedication. One way that he has done this is to offer a guaranteed spot in the popular STEM program to every neighborhood student who puts his school as first choice on the school choice form. This program is the one that is best funded in the school, it is also the one that probably provides the best tangible skills for a future high paying job. I know this is middle school but we need to start somewhere. Instead of a practice that saves slots for rich white kids we could have one that keeps things random. I know he will tell me about the ways he is trying to change things between and walls and in the halls of the school. I will offer to help, and maybe I can. Maybe we can get more kids who happen not to have white skin into the STEM program. Or maybe the solution that I have come up with from my privileged perch is not the one they are looking for.
Who really knows. Not me. But I will notice and listen as much as I can. And try to be less of a dingbat every single time I see someone with brown skin. Tripping over myself to be effusive is ineffective and maybe even damaging. Which is what I fear any action that takes me off the bench will be. Fear and worrying and wishing are not going to make a difference. We live in a world with regular racially motivated violence. We live in a world where the system is rigged. We live in a world with hate speech from a presidential candidate. And I live in a world apart.
At least I can try to change that last bit.
If you are looking for a way to talk to your kids about privilege I have found this video to be incredibly useful. The trick is how to have the next part of the conversation. Let me know if you have any ideas. <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/2KlmvmuxzYE” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
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