‘Distrust of all white people’

Recently I was thinking about when I began to generalize certain behaviors to white people. This came up because I once again saw that white woman who is a community leader struggling to open a door. And my first thought was “Good luck with that [slur omitted].”

Needless to say, I didn’t open the door for her this time. But I wondered if my inaction was more dehumanizing to me or to her.

My experience has been that most white people freely and happily partake of their privilege, often without ever stopping to think twice about it. And when they refuse privilege, I’m surprised. I’m at the store and I’m next in line to be waited on when the clerk starts to help a white person. And that white person indicates that I was first.

It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

My surprise indicates to me that I fully expected for that white person to take that bit of privilege and run with it. I don’t expect “common courtesy” from white people; it isn’t quite common enough. I’ve racialized their behavior to the point where I am expecting them to treat me as less-than.

But when I purposely choose to return their invisibility, I feel somehow that a piece of who I am is lost.

I chose not to open the door for that white woman, knowing full well that she would probably just sweep through without even giving me a glance or a nod. And I know that sometimes, on a less conscious level, I am less likely to offer courtesies to white people simply because I think they will respond with privilege.

Yet I remain unsure about my own actions or inactions. If I were to open the door for that woman, what would I be left feeling as a result? Does it even matter? What do I want? Do I want to force her to see my humanity? Or should it be enough that I see my own?

I remember that Martin Luther King said that we should not be lead to distrust of all white people. But what about when they do not see their destiny as being our own?

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Edited fer badd grammer.

8 thoughts on “‘Distrust of all white people’

  1. Interesting. Maybe it depends on where you live and the local culture? As a person of mixed race who identifies and looks black, I’ve never given much thought to door opening or other such social stuff as having racial overtones at all. That may be because I grew up in the whitest state in the nation and plenty of people have opened doors for me. I s’pose I chalk it up to rudeness vs good manners…?

    Which isn’t to say there aren’t racial overtones, just that I’ve not experienced that to my knowledge.

  2. There is a difference between not wanting to open the door for someone in particular who you know will not thank you for it, and generalising that to not opening doors for anyone who has something in common with that person (in this case, is white).

    As for expecting people to act on their privilege, we all do that. Financially under-privileged people do not expect those who are privileged to help them out. They might hope so, but they don’t expect it. Is that a lack of trust? Is it pessimism? Or is it a realistic outlook on life?

    It seems to me that what matters is what you do about it. I read the double door post again and I felt buoyed by your reaction to the guy who stole the seat you gave up for the woman and her baby. Action is what counts.

  3. Years back, a friend and I used to debate the manners v. racism thing — at that time I was more of the “it’s individual manners” school, whereas my friend (African American) felt it was racism, more often than not. In the years since, moving back to the states, seeing things my kids deal with in American schools, becoming involved in antiracist work in the community, I finally came to the realization that my friend was not cynical then, I was naive. I didn’t want to see it because I didn’t want to think about how that might reflect on me — if it was an individual manners thing, then I could continue to pat myself on the back on teh back for being “a good white person”, and not have to face the reality of my privilege. (because you know white people aren’t used to having to represent their race, ha!)

    Anyway, I guess I just wanted to say I hear you. As far as Dr. King’s words … I’d imagine that’s much easier said than done, when feelings, or even actions, are the result of having experienced these things over and over. I don’t know you could not generalize, at least to some extent.

  4. I think it’s brave of you to even address the subject, and I do think behaving the way you did with the woman struggling with the door does dehumanize you — let’s not lower ourselves to behaviors beneath our dignity.

  5. Unfortunately you are not alone, resistance. Psychology studies show that people tend to have implicit racial preferences or biases. The more you encounter rude behavior, the more biased you become, too. It’s not about becoming less human, but about being human.

  6. Thank you for your blog, thank you a thousand times. It’s so good to read your thoughts, it makes me think too, in a useful manier. I guess you (mostly) don’t write to help white people become better, but it does help me see how I could work out the not-wanted-yet-constructed racism inside me.

    This post is quite old so it’s kinda strange to comment, but those tales sadly don’t age, so I have a story that came back to me when I red yours, that I’d like to share.

    Some years ago, I was living in a very poor neighborhood. Unemployment was high, so lots of young men used to hang out in the streets. Most of them were POC. As I went by, they quite often did say things to me aloud. When it was sexist shit, I just ignored them, but sometimes they just said hello and I answered. One time, in the middle of the night, I was coming home wearing a dress, and a guy came out af a group to ask me what time it was. I stopped and said I was sorry, I had no watch nor phone, but I though it was around 3 AM. Here is the interesting part of the story : he thanked me many times, very warmly, and then I went home very sad. Because I didn’t give him the time, since I didn’t know, so he wasn’t thanking me for *that* – he thanked me because I, a white girl, wasn’t afraid of him, a POC man, talking to me in the middle of the night, and just answered politely. His over-grateful reaction indicated me that it was exceptionnal, made me think he probably expected a negative reaction, made me realise he was *used to* bad reactions from white people. And that made me very sad.

    Lots of factors here – class, gender, and race. Since I was daily harassed in those streets by sexist young men, I could have ignored him – expecting nothing good from him. But then I would have deshumanitized him, like those sexist assholes did deshumanitized me. And I do it sometimes – in this case, i knew from his voice he was nice, but in doubt, I don’t expose myself to harm.

    Sorry that it was so long, and sorry for my bad english, hope you can undestrand what I wrote – I’m French.

  7. Dr. Bernard LaFayette says, ” hating someone is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die”.

    Having said that, I do still hate and am working to find a better way, and like Solvieg am “working out the not-wanted-yet-constructed racism inside me” as well. Thank you Solvieg for words to express that.

    My Godson was profiled twice in the last couple of months and it was a very unpleasant experience for him. To the point of not going on about his life as he was used to because of the experience. Then on top of that I sat through the long day and part of the night of the Troy Davis lynching. At that point I couldn’t even bear to be around whites.

    I have no idea how any and all of this is justified in their minds, but I am committed to doing whatever I can to make it stop. I can promise all of you there are 3 generations after me who have been raised hate free and as stereotype free as I am capable of and I pray that will continue through all of my subsequent generations till the end of time.

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