Waking Up White: Chapter 18

Chapter 18 Color Blind

The Reading

One sleepless night this year, as I tossed and turned, thinking about my previously unrecognized white privilege, I imagined what my life would have been like if just one parent had been in a historically undervalued racial group…My life would have followed the “hypo-descent rule,” in which the “inferior” race in my mix would have become my racial assignment.

Instead of nourishing my sense of belonging, my daily life would have planted seeds of insecurity and resentment about my tentative place in a white world.

When my paternal grandparents died, more than likely there would have been little if any inheritance to pass along to future generations.

So, basically, if she had been a person of color, her life would have been more like mine?

At this point in my reading, I am starting to get a little snarky, hearing the author discuss all of the ways her life differs from mine, and putting them all down to color.  Poor you, if one of your parents hadn’t been white, you might not have had an inheritance from your grandparents?  I only knew one of my grandparents. When my dad died a couple of years ago, my “inheritance” was a teacup, and the bill for his cremation.

That's not a complaint. I love that teacup, and my sister and I split the costs.  I just seriously do not understand how "being white" somehow automatically means you get inheritances and acceptance, and am getting really sick of reading how I supposedly have all of these things I have never experienced. There are real issues to address, and the best I can get from a supposed resource is a bunch of pearl-clutching anxiety about how those poor unfortunates might not get any inheritance?

Color-blindness, a philosophy that denies the way lives play out differently along racial lines, actually maintains the very cycle of silence, ignorance, and denial that needs to be broken for racism to be dismantled.

The Study Question

If both of your parents are white, imagine just one of them being a person of color. Rethink your life from birth to the present. How would your race have influenced your experiences and your outcomes?

My dad was a migrant laborer with an 8th grade education, who went into the Navy because “I knew if I didn’t get me a trade, I was going to be doing this the rest of my life.” He got his GED in the service, and once he retired, he went to work in a Navy shipyard doing the same work. If he had been black, I think his trajectory would have been similar.

My mom has been married five times that I know of, has three kids, and in the time that I am familiar with, lived mostly by working when she couldn’t get out of it, and convincing men to give her things. I don’t know how she makes her living now. If she had been black, she’d have been called a Welfare Queen, and probably had a harder time finding enough willing men with money.

Like my Dad, I went into the military and used that as a launch point. While I still don’t “fit in” to the “normal” world, being a veteran at least got me in that door. I am sure race played a role in my career. There are a couple of jobs I’ve had that I might not have got if I had not been white. There are a couple I got and a few I missed out on for which being white was likely a barrier (primarily during the decade I spent in Albuquerque, which was colonized by Spain rather than England, and where the majority population is Hispanic).

My sister was on her own at 14, and my brother was sent away to kid-jail out of state (in earlier ears they’d have called it reform school) in his teens.  He’s been shot (by a roommate), lived a lot of years on the fringes (but managed to keep himself out of prison, good on him) before he managed to give up drinking. He now works in the same shipyard my dad used to work in. My teachers assumed that my intelligence would go to waste, because I was just going to end up a welfare mom.

Maybe I am just too obliviously white. It seems to me our lives wouldn’t have been that much different.

Waking Up White Blog Challenge

Stephen’s Chapter 18 Post

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6 thoughts on “Waking Up White: Chapter 18

  1. I appreciate that you speak openly about your own reflections and history, and that this isn’t a comfortable review of your history for you, even that this isn’t a review you knew in advance how it would go. I’m reading along with you and not “reading ahead” (as my childhood habits would have me do), and each time I finish a chapter and begin to answer the questions, I am doing so without any idea of how my thoughts might not fit the desired narrative of the author. You may have noticed that a primary life value of me is the desire not to be “wrong,” and this journey is full of minefields, it seems, where I am often stepping on the wrong places.

    We’re 20% along the way here (18/45), and I do not know where this is going. Maybe one of the hazards of this work is that we might be going into a deliberate uncovering of those mines.

    1. Maybe one of the benefits of this work is that we might be unburying unexpected things. 🙂 ‘S kinda the point yes?

      Honestly – this blog challenge has been – well, I’ve been a lot more candid and personal than I normally am on a wide-open web site. But – to do this exploration with integrity demands candor. I don’t feel that I have gained any magic new perspective from this reading so far. I hope that will change in time – but if not, then at the very least, being able to come back and examine my *reactions to the book over time may offer me an insight I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

      Culture is a thing – and despite the American “pride in individualism” there are things that we share as white, west coast Americans. Even so – I sometimes feel like I am just to different from “normal” people. The other book I am reading right now, in our reading circle at work is Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. And I don’t find a lot of commonality there, either. She talks about how white people react to these conversations, and I am just “Nope. Nope. And… Nope.”

      I see what she is describing in the people around me, I just don’t get it. I don’t have the temperament to feel personally responsible for two-hundred-year-old BS, and combined with that desire to deconstruct and understand things, my reaction is “tell me more!” It puts me in a frustrating loop sometimes – it feels like the resources designed to help you “start to recognize” are aimed at the folks who have to be convinced it’s a real thing and convinced to enter the conversation, and they spend more of their time on that than on “useful things” (from my perspective).

      That’s kinda how I ended up in this blog challenge – I wanted a chance to sit with some folks who are in a similar space and see what the view looked like from there, whether there was a better opportunity to understand and recognize whatever things I am missing…

      1. This is why we need to schedule another meal! This is all just fascinating to me.

        I’m working with another group on similar topics, and the question posed by the black moderator to us white folks (only us white folks, for now) was this: How does working together to end racism serve the interests of white Americans as a group?”

        It is a tough question. How does going through this result in a benefit for white Americans, when, if we do nothing, we’ll be generally fine? (At least, that’s how I’m seeing the question.) What does it mean that we are doing this, and what does it mean to us as white people?

        As white people & members of the dominant social class, we don’t have to do this, not one step, not one word, not one action. And yet–here we are, doing this. For me, right now, there’s a sense of “this is what I need to be doing.” But the question posed to me has stumped me because it is the deepest question, so far.

        I can spin ideas of what this all might mean for others. I’m just hand-waving the benefits for white Americans who do not need anything to be done.

        1. Just a thought, but “white people do just fine **If nothing changes.**”

          Our world is changing. Our national demographic is changing. When whites are no longer the majority population in the US, when the oppressed visibly outnumber the oppressor, when oppressed whites find themselves more actively lumped in with the oppressor by oppressed non-whites – how’s it all gonna feel then?

          If we can build partnership, reshape out nation to something that allows for everyone to thrive – we have a much better chance of being a part of “everyone” when WE are the minority.

          I mean, if general human decency isn’t reason enough, perhaps the prospect of “survival in a world where we’re no longer numerous enough to control everything” could be a motivator?

    1. I’m all thumbs in most things in life. I get things terribly wrong, but like my quote from Nelson Mandela says, I never lose—I either win or I learn.

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