So I’m supposed to figure out what it’s like to be black? Do you know what it’s like to be white these days?
Chris Lebron’s “Navigating Blackness In A White World”¹ shares his encounter with a white Ivy League dean, someone so certain he holds his Woke Racial Liberal card that he opened his mouth and erased all doubt about who he really is. Turns out hosting a speaker series promoting diversity doesn’t necessarily make you racially aware.
side note for my white peeps: Do you know what it’s like to be white? is almost always followed with Everything we say is taken wrong!! It might be worth thinking about why we feel like we’re always sticking our collective foot in our mouths. Just sayin.
“All Black people in America are first and foremost survivors. And the first thing survivors learn are the ways of those who actively prey upon them and/or comfortably benefit from that predation.” (Lebron)
It’s impossible for a person of color to live in America and not know what it’s like to be white. White is a culture so dominant it’s woven into every aspect of our lives – healthcare, education, banking, employment, government, opportunity, housing. A Black person cannot survive, let alone succeed, in America without intimately understanding how each of these systems is stacked against him/her then learning to navigate them. Looking for a few examples? We’ll take the first two.
Healthcare. Okay, this is a touchy one. Lots of white people can’t get/afford health insurance right now and bringing up this issue tends to elicit a “See? It’s being poor that’s the problem” response. A few thoughts: Employer sponsored coverage grew significantly between 1940 and 1960, which worked great. For those who were employed. Using December 2009 stats²:
white unemployment: 9.0% Black/African American unemployment: 16.1%
Now extrapolate that to the ’40s when it was even harder for Blacks to secure employment, let alone healthcare coverage. That doesn’t even begin to address the current discrepancy in healthcare quality between races.
Education. I wrote about racial disparity in gifted/talented classes and school suspensions here. There’s underrepresentation of POC in top tier schools plus the assumption that minority students are there to fill a quota. Then there’s this dean’s presumption that of course his voice would be the authority on race in America. Jesus take the wheel.
I could go on, but Chris Lebron says it best.
“Whiteness in America is to know in your bones that this land is your land, and every institution will work to grant you its bounty before anyone else.” (Lebron)
I hope you come into the Small Bites space with an open mind and heart. Thank you to everyone who’s been willing to share their own thoughts in the comments. You can find other entries by selecting small bites in the drop down menu under “series posts.”
¹ Lebron, Chris. “Navigating Blackness In A White World.” The North Star, 7 April 2019, thenorthstar.com/articles/navigating-blackness-in-a-white-world. Accessed 11 April 2019.
² Bureau of Labor Statistics. United States Department of Labor, data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet. Accessed 11 April 2019.