A question often asked when working in race, equity, and whiteness is, “When did you first know you were white?” I remember the first time I was asked this question and not thinking about when I realized I was white, but when I realized I was not Black. My dad is a Jehovah’s Witness and we attended a Kingdom Hall as one of few white families. I went to a high school that was predominantly African American. I was one of a couple white athletes on the track and volleyball teams. I spent a large portion of my youth as “the white girl.” I realized I was not Black at a slumber party. My friends were braiding hair with beads. I was told my hair was “White girl hair,” and not going to work for proper braids. I also remember this moment as the first time being told I could not do something and doing it anyway. I showed up at the next congregation meeting with a confident walk, a bounce in my step, and three frayed, haggard braids in my hair with beads. Undoubtedly, this was a pivotal influence in the formation of my personal vested interests in multicultural education and social justice. My story was a turning point in my life that led me to multicultural education. It is part of my social geography and symbolizes some of the biases and perspectives I bring to my work. Since then I am constantly reminded that I am white. I learned a lot about being white in these spaces and I am continually growing and discovering what it means to be white in the United States.
As a kid I would hear my Black friends talk about “the man,” “whitey,” and crackers. But then they would say, “But not you, you’re not really white.” I began to develop this attitude that I was a good white person and that there were bad white people. This attitude encompasses the idea that good white people are superior to the bad ones. However, this is not an attitude to embrace when working in race, equity, and whiteness spaces. So, as an adult, I find myself constantly checking myself in readjusting my superiority complex among white colleagues. To be white is to be neither good nor bad, it is to be part of a system of oppression and to be clear on what role we want to play in that system. I want to be an interrupter of the system, as Christine Sleeter suggests, an anti-racist racist.
Sleeter wrote a chapter in a book called Everyday White People Confront Racial and Social Injustice. Her chapter was focused on this idea that all white people, because of racial socialization, are racist. Not because we burn crosses, use racial slurs, or are members of white supremacist groups, but because we were raised and socialized to be superior through media, housing and education policies, and criminal justice practices. We are subtly and strategically taught that to be white is normal and anything else is different and to be questioned. This develops implicit biases that come out as microaggressions and other racist thinking and actions. However, to be an anti-racist racist is to actively work to interrupt the racist policies put into practice in systems in which we live and work. The point that I took from this chapter that I am applying and reflecting on is that white people cannot be anti-racist 100% of the time. Sometimes we slip with a microaggression, by being a bystander in a racist interaction and being silent, or by not even noticing how something is racist. But to consciously work towards a socially just, multicultural society through activism is to be an anti-racist racist. To speak up against injustices, to keep yourself up-to-date on new laws and policies put into place and speaking out against and working towards repealing them is to be an anti-racist racist. To call out racist systems and contradictions in places of work, school, or communities is to be an anti-racist racist. To see how whiteness plays a role in everyone’s daily lives is to be an anti-racist racist. The chapter gave me comfort in embracing the idea that to be white is to be racist, not of my own doing, but of inheritance, and to choose to interrupt the whiteness I have been given is to be an anti-racist racist.
While this is supposed to be a blog about when I realized I was white, I need to emphasize that I am constantly realizing that I am white.