White People Quota- Reached
White people, please read. This is for us.
“Shar, you are everyone’s favorite white person.”
This is a statement my Korean-American friend, Amy, said to me again one evening after discussing her idea of getting “White People Quota Reached” t-shirts made. As one of the few white people in my friend group, we often talk about race, the intersectionality of race and sex, race and socioeconomic status, sexuality, and many other intersectionalities. As we were laughing about the idea of a “White People Quota Reached” t-shirt, I got it. I know those white people; I know what that quota feels like. I often find that quota is met when I am surrounded by too many white people that aren’t my family. When statements such as “you are everyone’s favorite white person” are made, I laugh, admittedly get a little swag in my step, and then check my ego and stop and reflect.
Why is it so easy to understand that “white people quota reached” statement? I don’t take offense, but I have mixed emotions to it. I don’t want to have a white people quota, I am a white person. What is it that I, as a very white woman, don’t enjoy about being surrounded by white people? (Don’t stop reading, white friends. I know this is the point some of you will want to stop. Open heart, open mind.)
So, I start going down that rabbit hole. I’ve been grappling lately with white women’s role in slavery, racism, and perpetuating white supremacy in today’s society. We, white women, can be a sneaky bunch. Our role in slavery is often overlooked, however in the 1850 and 1860 census, white women made up 40 percent of all slave owners (The Massive Overlooked Role of Female Slave Owners, Becky Little). Slaveholders typically gave their daughters slaves as opposed to the land they gave their sons. White women were active participants in upholding the slave trade. Owning a large number of slaves made a white woman a more desirable marriage prospect; white women’s worth was directly linked to the number of black bodies she owned (The Massive Overlooked Role of Female Slave Owners, Becky Little).
As members of the marginalized group that is “women”, we have intimate experiences with sexism, oppression, physical, sexual, and emotional violence due to being women AND as white women, we are the most protected type of women. Roll that around in your mouth white women. Actually, say it with me “I, as a white woman, am the most protected type of woman by society’s standards.” Doesn’t taste good, does it? It shouldn’t.
Listening to a podcast talking about Pearl Harbor and Japanese-Americans pilgrimage to a former internment camp, two women are being interviewed. A Japanese-American woman whose parents were affected and a white woman who is her friend. In recounting this journey, the white woman begins crying and stating things such as “I just can’t believe something like this happened. I just can’t help but cry.” The Japanese-American, who is intimately involved with this tragedy, takes the ever too common roll of consoling her, stating on-air “It’s okay Sarah.”
Listening to this, as a white woman, I’m embarrassed, confused, frustrated, and embarrassed again. “White women tears” is a phenomenon I witness far too often working in the nonprofit sector in spaces where I am usually a racial minority. I have witnessed fellow white women shift the narrative when being confronted on race, white privilege, or tragedies in the world that white people have been protected from due to our skin color from the topic to their emotions. She cries. We are now focusing all attention on consoling her and not the reality of what occurred.
It infuriates me. Why does it infuriate me? Because I am guilty too. I am a white woman who has benefited and benefits from the structures of whiteness. I belong to a group of people that were heavily involved in and from a young age exposed to and involved in oppressing, beating, and actively working to harm black people. That is the reality that we need to stop arguing. We need to stop pretending like that is up for negotiation. I am a Quaker, come from generations of Quakers who were actively involved in abolitionist movements, but even in that, I am guilty of either consciously or subconsciously participating in and perpetuating systems designed to oppress People of Color.
I’ve been guilty of things before. I will be guilty of things again. I’ve made mistakes and have had to own them. When I recall these incidents, which I will not recount now for everyone, I think back to my reactions when confronted. When I know I did someone wrong and am confronted what is my go-to response? If I’m being honest, it’s sadness. Embarrassment. Disappointment in myself. Guilt. Tears.
It’s sadness, tears, and denial when I am a developing adolescent. It’s sadness, tears, and ownership as an intelligent adult. I don’t try to excuse myself or pretend what I did didn’t happen, we both know it happened. So, I sit in my emotions and listen and figure out how to make amends and do better.
To my white women (and men) reading this: Likely, none of us have ever owned slaves. It is also very likely that our ancestors did and thus are responsible for creating this system that has disenfranchised, raped, beaten, ripped families apart, and continues to have negative lasting effects for People of Color. Right? Right.
Now that we have admitted that and we are all intelligent adults and not hormonal adolescents, what comes next?
I can not change my past or rewrite history. I love who I am, and part of who I am is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white woman. I can learn about my history and learn about the role women that look like me and belong to certain social structures like me played in some of these tragic horrid parts of American history. I can have honest conversations with women of different races and listen to hear, not to cry and divert the discomfort I feel in — say it with me — being the most protected type of woman. That knowledge is uncomfortable, I’m not saying it’s not, but that discomfort is not the responsibility of my black girlfriend to absolve for me. As part of being guilty, I have to own and sit in that, while also loving myself for who I am and the change I am working toward.
I have been physically, emotionally, and sexually harmed by men and I am also the most protected type of woman. These two facts are difficult to reconcile, and that is OK, but the former does not negate the latter and the latter does not negate the trauma I work through daily because of the former.
I go back to the “white people quota met” t-shirt idea and I think for me, what I find most infuriating when being surrounded by many white people is that lack of acceptance. The lack of acceptance of our role in creating and perpetuating systems that are designed to lift us up and keep others down. Why would I want to hang out with someone that denies the truth? That’s what I feel when surrounded by white people that deny the implications of slavery and the continued, to this day, attack against People of Color. Why would I want to hang out with you if you can not see the truth? White people quota met.
White people, let’s work together to expand that quota. Let’s work together to own our part in our history and truly shift generations of unhealthy mindsets, horrendous actions, and unjust systems.