The blindfold

From Harlow’s Monkey:

… some of the parents of the younger kids were saying things along the lines of “my kid doesn’t notice racism” or “my kid has never talked about being the victim of racism” or “I don’t think my kids will experience racism.”

I think a lot of people are tied to that belief – that racism doesn’t exist any more.

Just one person’s experience:

I’m not sure how old I was when I experienced my first act of racism (by an adult white woman), but I was riding my tricycle at the time. However, if you’d asked me about racism then, I seriously doubt I would have understood what you meant.

I noticed racism. I just didn’t have any words for it.

I’m not even sure I would have been able to talk coherently about it in junior high or high school. And I don’t remember much discussing racism with my parents, even though we had several very scary incidents when I was a child.

My parents, I think, wanted me to feel safe. So they assumed a kind of “Yeah, that’s the way it is,” attitude. Not exactly people of color “playing the victim,” is it?

A number of things happened throughout my childhood but I never did have the words to express them. I didn’t have enough knowledge of the world to understand them, and instead they seemed like random acts of hatred.*

Sometimes I wonder if it’s the randomness that seems so scary. Or is it worse to understand the institutionalized nature of racism? When something happens to a child, and the police are called, is it better for the child to witness the police officers’ indifference and understand it? Or is it better for the child if no one speaks of it?

Sometimes I think that I have internalized a great deal of racism, believing that I deserved poor treatment, abuse and violence. And sometimes I think that I have not internalized racism because I saw it happen to my friends and family, and knew they did not deserve to be treated this way.

In my real life, I don’t talk too much about racism with people I don’t know very well. Even when I’m specifically asked. I was most recently asked to “share” some of my experiences with racism when I was leading a seminar. At this point in my life, I don’t do it.

What I tended to find was that talking about my experiences of racism with white people tended to cause me to experience trauma all over again. Part of this is because people of color experience the denial of racism as racism.

And part of this is because that even when white people are well-meaning, are good hearted, are trying really hard to listen, they don’t feel the pain.

I think that I probably could have talked to my parents about racism. And I know we did talk about some incidents. Although they never interjected much of their point of view, I knew that they did not discount my viewpoint. They never tried to convince me that what I was seeing was unintentional, or accidental, or not really wrong.

Also I had the experience of witnessing my parents being treated in a racist manner. So on a deeper level I always knew that these things happened.

I never heard my parents discussing racist incidents and then remarking that the people involved had “overreacted” or had “a chip on their shoulders” or “were seeing racism in everything.” But I have frequently heard white people doing this, and this makes me wary of sharing painful incidents to know that they can/do become cocktail party chatter–humor at my expense without recognition of the cost.

But white people tell me that times have changed. And that racism “isn’t as bad anymore” or even “has been largely eliminated.” And specifically I’ve heard that kids nowadays aren’t racist, what with being raised with their multicultural curriculum and all.

You see, I lived in the dark ages. We’re in the enlightened period now. Look, we even have a black man running for president!

Well, I don’t think multicultural curriculum is a replacement for anti-racist teaching. But that’s a whole ‘nother story (perhaps best left to sinoangle to cover). And even if a black man is elected president, that doesn’t mean systemic racism will disappear overnight.

But I know that times have changed, and maybe they haven’t changed enough. Gabriela63 once commented that perhaps one’s view of how things had changed depended on where you felt we as a society should be. If you feel that people of color should have full equality, well, we’re not there yet. So talking about how times have changed seems like saying I should be grateful for any move towards full equality even though full equality is not a reality.

A brown neighbor’s daughter was recently told by kindergarten classmates that she was dirty and looked like a rat. A friend attending an academic conference was “ching chonged” by some random white people. And [I started to list additional recent examples, except I don’t really feel like having anybody tell me this is not “real” racism, or that I’m exaggerating, or that I go out looking for racism, or that it was unintentional].

Part of being colorblind is willingly wearing that blindfold.

*Here I am talking about racism as individual acts of hatred as I believe this is the meaning attributed to “racism” by the parents quoted by Harlow’s Monkey. I did have other experiences where I experienced or noted systemic racism, but that would have been even harder to discuss as a child. That’s a subject for another post.

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