The White Ladies Racism Chat…
Dominant Culture Blindness, Part 2
Mom and I look like nice white ladies, don’t we?
Well, we do choose to do a lot of nice things for people as we’re both very other-centered. But, isn’t that how women have been traditionally groomed in most every ethnic group since creation? Life routine as a gal has always incorporated some type of kindness with care for others. And, despite a Western knowledge-based economy, that has us gals now focused on education and careers, female caretaking still lays deep within our DNA. We have this beautiful heritage and calling as humane social beings, looking after the needs of family, friends and neighbors.
Most who know mom or I would also say that, despite being caring, we don’t always fit the “nice” lady label. We are both wired with sensitive, sometimes hair-triggering, justice buttons. When we see things appearing unjust, or simply not right… well, we speak up. And, our words can cut like knives, especially with other white ladies. Many aren’t used to authentic or confrontational input, especially if they have been groomed by etiquette standards fostering certain “proper lady” ways above all else.
Mom and I face our challenges with this. When we do choose to speak up about something that doesn’t seem right… well, let’s just say it can be offensive to some. Our words can be perceived as inappropriate by simply having a different view. Then, other days, we each struggle with choosing the right words in any conversation. We find out that we probably shouldn’t have spoken one word… we should have remained quiet and unopinionated.
Regardless of any negatives, the good part of our wiring is that it has caused us both to take fierce stands for justice, especially for children and those oppressed.
Recently, we had a deep conversation around all of this and landed on the subject of racism. It’s a topic very few white ladies choose to talk about. Let alone own the fact that many of us were raised as… well, racists.
We were discussing America’s ongoing racial tension, comparing current scenarios to those of the 1960’s. We both know racism is still a big, yet often unrecognized, American cancer with many white people. And that’s when she blurted out, “I know your dad and I were racist in our views. We really never wanted you or your sister to date a black man.”
Well, I knew that! Mixed race relationships were not favored in my young adulthood era of cultural norms. And, let’s be real, even in the 1970’s it was still illegal to have a mixed race marriage in certain U.S. states. (Alabama kept this law in their books till 1998!)
Mom’s admission was a really big “out there” statement for an over-80 white woman. No one in my family even knew a person of color in our small town from the 1950’s through the 70’s. So, it was huge that she could recognize and admit that family truth. Many in her Midwest town still could not say or own a statement like that in 2015. Even though it is still truth today for their family and heritage, too.
Our conversation continued around how these views are still too normal. And, as a mom myself, I’ve also pondered how my childhood nurturing currently effects my everyday words, actions and reactions.
I now live in a big city with much diversity. Yet, as much as I want to think I embrace diversity, I constantly have to check my thoughts and motivation. I continually have to ask myself, “Am I thinking or responding in a racist or paternalist manner in this situation? Do I have an open understanding posture, or am I gripped with a certitude or implicit social bias through what I was taught?”
Here’s an example. A few months back I was picking up my daughter at her very diverse urban high school. Kids were hanging out after school and I saw a gal I knew with a guy, arms wrapped and kissing. She was white and he was black. My first reactive thought was, “does her mom know about this?” Then I shifted to, “what would I do if this was my daughter?”
Seeing the mixed race couple still triggered a racist processing problem in my mind. I saw the situation and initially it didn’t look right to me. I had to stop and ask myself, “Would I think the same thoughts if this guy was white?” Maybe… but, maybe not.
You see, once you’re taught that something is wrong, human reaction typically elicits a corresponding learned situational response. To overcome this, we have to be aware and willing to challenge our heritage thought formation. Continuously checking ideas and reactions. I own that my initial processing thoughts still slanted towards reactionary racism in that situation… even multiple decades later!
For me, this second half of life now revolves around unlearning much of what was learned in my formative years. It’s about constantly challenging and reassessing my dual thinking in what I see as right and wrong.
I’m committed to continuing in deep contemplation, activism and story telling as means to help reshape my own and others’ unjust dominant cultural values. I long for deeper understanding and humility in this; and, I’m bound to authenticity in owning my personal heritage and self-inflicted stuff. I also cling to the promise in the title of activist Lynn Hybels’ book… Nice Girls Don’t Change the World!
Questions to ponder:
1. What did you learn about race growing up?
2. Do you think you lean towards being more politely nice or authentic in responses to others? Why?
3. Do you have friends of color? If so, do you have deep conversations about racism with them?
4. If you don’t have any friends of color, why not?
5. Would you be willing to seek a deep friendship with a person of color, proactively seeking diversity in your relationships?