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White: it's the new black
Yesterday, I was kicking back on the couch watching TV, and I heard two lines that particularly puzzled me. The first came from a black woman with two junior high aged children. She said, “I believe that all people are equal. Because we are black, I discipline my children to study harder than most parents do so that they can be accepted for a job someday by white people.” The next comment came from another black woman in the kitchen of the house of a white family. She picked up the cookie jar, which was a porcelain depiction of a grandma wearing an apron and a chef’s hat, holding out a tray of cookies. The old lady depicted on the jar happened to be black. The woman picked it up and said, “Oh no, this does not fly with me.” She later went on to explain how a “black mammy cookie jar” was both offensive and demeaning to black Americans.
The comments reminded me of something a black adult that I know once said. “I used to think that the government and white Americans owed me something for the years of persecution that they put on my people.”
This talk really bothers me. I’m white. My whole family is white. Good grief, my last name is White! But I am not the face of past white American racism.
Back in the day, many white plantation owners purchased black people as slaves. These black people were taken from their homeland of Africa, dragged across the continent, stuffed onto the Caribbean Islands like old furniture stuffed into a storage bin, and then were sent on to be devalued, overworked, and mistreated by white Americans. Even after the Civil War, the prejudice endured through the 1960s. It cost the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. his life, and many other black people their lives. If not that expensive, it still cost them their dignity, their happiness, their health, and denied them the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness righted to all Americans. The way that black people were treated by white people makes my sick to my stomach. But I didn’t do it.
Some black people and others of races besides white, like that man, now my friend, hold the view that white people owe them something, and the unfortunate thing is that these people often get what they feel white people owe them. Take, for example, minority scholarships. One of my good friends has about the same grades that I do. We have similar personalities and are involved in all of the same extracurricular activities, but she will pay much less for college because she is black. Where’s the equality in that? Why does that fact that I’m white have anything to due with my performance in college?
This past winter, I went on a fieldtrip to a predominately Hasidic Jewish community in New York City with my class. My four friends and I walked around together. Not one of us had any trace of Jewish blood. We were wearing New York tee shirts, sunglasses, and we were all tangled up in a neighborhood map. You may as well have just taped a sign to our backs that said “Tourists.”
“Excuse me, where is your rabbi?” A woman asked us.
“Oh, we don’t have a rabbi, we’re here on a field trip,” I replied.
“I see. Are you Jewish?” She inquired.
“No,” we all responded.
“I didn’t think so,” she said. “Come with me. I have a place to show you that we’d appreciate you all to visit before you spend the rest of the day in our community.”
Excited and disillusioned, we followed the woman, thinking we were getting some sort of an insider’s tour. Instead, however, she led us to the Museum of Tolerance. I couldn’t believe it. Not one of my friends or I had done anything to suggest any remote hint of intolerance. We were actually excited to try Jewish food, look at some traditional Jewish clothing, and maybe talk to some Jewish people and learn a few words in their language. Instead, we were marked as intolerant and dropped off at a place where the walls are covered with horrific pictures of Nazis abusing Jews in concentration camps. And notice the plural pronouns in her comment. Because we weren’t Jewish, she assumed that she had the right to speak ex cathedra for all Jews in the community. She didn’t even grant her own people the voice that she was demanding that we grant them.
Later in the day, I went with the same group of friends to visit a Muslim mosque. Except for my being 1/32 Armenian, not one of us has any Middle Eastern roots. At the door, a Muslim woman asked us to remove our shoes, which we did. She quickly explained how some rooms were males-only and some rooms were solely for females, and then said, “Feel free to explore and ask questions. Our home is your home.” I had wonderful afternoon learning about the Muslim way of life through experiencing it in a hands-on way. I made a new friend in the woman at the gate, even though she kept her face covered and I did not.
So yes, I am white. But I am not racist, guilty, or indebted to anyone of a different race than me. I live my life the way that I want to live it. My way of life is not superior to the culture of anyone else, it is just my way. Quite frankly, I think it is immature, petty, and downright childish for people of other races than my own to look at white Americans through the eyes of their great grandparents. It’s 2009! Not 1754, 1843, or 1958. I have never had a black slave, I am not an antisemetic Nazi, and I don’t plan on causing an act of terrorism. I am just a person like every black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, white American man or woman who ever walked this earth. I have a great amount of compassion for those who suffered racial persecution at the hands of white Americans, but I assure you, I am innocent, as are most of the white people I know, and I wish that more people would see things that way.