Waking Up White: Chapter 22

Chapter 22: Why Do I Always End Up With White People?

The Reading

The author tells the story of looking for a home to raise her children in.  Shortly after the birth of her daughter, she and her husband begin to look for homes in the suburbs, where they can be assured of good schools and quality of life. In case we missed the hint, the author points out that she “mistakenly thoughts these things impossible” in their in-city neighborhood.

After an afternoon spent being ferried through the suburbs by a realtor, the author is experiencing dizziness, a racing heart, and sweaty palms that leave her with a splitting headache. “I am not moving to the suburbs,” she declares dramatically.  Heroically. She Has Experienced Diversity And Will Not Go Back To Her Benighted Origins. ‘Cause she’s just that woke.

Oh, wait, it’s not because she’s woke and superior to all us benighted souls. It’s because she has been freed from the debilitating, oppressive chains of her upbringing. Absent the pressure to conform, I felt freed from the dominant culture I’d known in [my childhood home].

My bad. I thought it was all about how she had evolved into a more cognizant and aware human and could go try to be what she had once been. But really, it’s all about the fact that she had been freed from the need to conform and didn’t want to go back to Stepford.

But was it really so different?

The author notices that, although she wanted the variety of city life, she keeps surrounding herself with people like her.

I began noticing how two distinct groups of mothers formed at the playground, both white. My group, the private-college-educated women who’d grown up in a variety of US suburbs, was one. The other consisted of women who had grown up in [this city[, had gone to state colleges, and were not working part-time or odd-shift jobs. Most of the other groups’ husbands worked for the city…or in blue-collar jobs.

The author is amazed that these women pack their kids around while they run errands, which her group would set aside until a sitter could look after the kids. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that the sitter or the extended family to provide that service are luxuries that these women may not have had. It does eventually occur to the author that the coddles, cosseted upper class kids might not be getting the better preparation for the world.  (But then, who knows. Maybe they’re being perfectly prepared for that world where Daddy’s friend lets you volunteer at his work until someone can offer you a management job.)

Because it’s still always about the white people

The author goes on to notice the absence of black moms in the park, even though there is an apartment complex nearby with black families in it. She goes on to relate a story of attempting to strike up a conversation with a black youth who crosses her path regularly in the neighborhood. He declines to engage with her. At first she is embarrassed. Then she’s mad at him (to her credit, she stops short of calling him ‘uppity’) for daring to ignore her.

Then she has the ‘woke’ realization that she is being stereotyped, and while noting that she can’t know his motivations, points out very clearly that it’s because he is stereotyping her and choosing not to engage with the White Woman. She talks about how it feels to think that people might be afraid of her because of her race. In fact, she has quite a bit to say about why she thinks he might not have wanted to talk to her, for someone who has just pointed out that, since he didn’t talk to her, she can’t know.

All those things seem possible, maybe even likely.  But I can’t help notice the glaring absence of one explanation. Not the only one, surely.  And not to say that all of these things can’t be true together.  I just found it really interesting that the one thing she never considered was the possibility that those black parents might be working their asses of at two or three jobs, trying to take care of the house and deal with life in the breaks between, and just didn’t have the luxury of spending hours at a time in the park, with or without their kids.

The Study Question

Have you tried to form relationships across racial lines? How have they worked out? If they didn’t get very far, how did you explain that to yourself?

Yes, I have. They succeed and fail at a rate pretty similar to my relationships with white people. I explain the failures the same way regardless – they tend to rest on my ineptness in dealing with people of any sort (I’m just as bad at it with white people). But the two people I’d call in the middle of the night if things went to the devil are my sister – and my next door neighbor. (His dad is white, mom wasn’t. He’s one of our favorite people, and living next door to him is the reason we chose the house we live in).

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Stephen’s Chapter 22 post

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3 thoughts on “Waking Up White: Chapter 22

  1. I’ve found that I choose to be slotted with “my people,” and breaking free of that (or at least the attempt to do so is quite, quite difficult. Like rubbing the cat’s fur the wrong way. It feels wrong, and the cat bites back. For me, choosing to break my whiteness is an every-day, every-moment decision. I would make the same choices in my whiteness to pursue whiteness and not feel anything wrong. It’s the choosing that feels difficult, not the choices.

    1. I suppose it’s natural to seek out those who are “like you”. I recall reading an article in a pop-sci magazine a decade or so ago that such biases might be an evolutionary device – a safety mechanism (“those who look more like me are more likely to be from my tribe, hence friendly; those who look less like me are more likely to be from a different tribe, hence dangerous”).

      You do make me wonder if part of my own challenge in relating to some of this is just rooted in the fact that I haven’t really felt that “belonging.” Without being dramatic about it, I *have spent the majority of my life an “outsider” – and you make me wonder if that is the thing that is “off” about my perspective that makes it so difficult for me to relate to some of the logic. Same environment, different assumptions….

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