Thursday, September 12, 2013

White Privilege Among Friends and Facebook

In the midst of Zimmerman trial, a few 'friends' approached me. Apparently I talked too much about race. It wasn't appreciated. It made them uncomfortable. I thought about this for a while and resisted the urge to explain the sociological and historical terms of why Trayvon Martin is indicative of a larger problem. I became aware that I was dealing with White privilege and then I did something I should not have done: I stayed silent. I censored myself because the issue that endangered my actual ability to live...made them squirm. They would rather not talk about it. Some of these friends were spiritual, others were atheist, but I did notice one common trait: they were all White men.

I noticed that other people of color were experiencing the same thing in person or on social media sites. I would look at the Facebook newsfeed and notice the occasional comment of weariness: did we have to always make this about race? Once again, these were almost always White men. In one incident there was a questioning of why the news was only showing the young picture of Trayvon. Why was the news not showing the much larger and I guess scary, threatening Black man who was still gunned down for walking back home. When I explained the protocol of how the news media defers to the family to ask for pictures, his suspicion remained. Why was the media still running this picture, as if there was some conspiracy involved to show a murdered Black teenage boy as innocent victim of an overzealous neighbor with documented past incidents of racism, rather than acknowledging that the only conspiracy involved was one of facts aligning with our previous experiences of racism in America.

It's a blessing to have so many friends of different colors, ethnicities, and religions. But the issue of White privilege has to be addressed. For people of color to be told by their White 'friends' that they talk about race too much, the scenario should be flipped. In the midst of inequality, how can their counterpart be so silent?

Willful blindness and silence doesn't make one more Christian or Buddhist or spiritual. Quite the opposite. To allow systematic injustice to go on and to not even speak of it because it's messy or not your family, is a sign of weakness and privilege. It makes you a part of the problem.

The concepts of karma and emptiness do not mean we ignore the world and injustice. But we use the world to work through our own stuff. Activism on and off the cushion is a must. But there can be no work done when the inequalities of the day are ignored. Having a friend of color doesn't mean you've escaped the matrix of White privilege or have 'figured it out.'

This morning I saw a story about a Black man in Florida who was beaten up by a cop, arrested, thrown in jail for a night, and brought to court for walking on the wrong side of the road (the story can be read here). This is something that all people should be aware of; not because it highlights an isolated incident. The reason why this is news is because it's symbolic of systemic inequality. Although these societal problem appears to flares up every once in a while in outrageous crimes, they exists on a subtle level in the lives of millions every day.

When I walked down the street yesterday and hear the car doors lock, I am aware of the small, everyday things. I can't knock on the car window and explain to this person that I just came from a workshop at Juilliard. I can't explain to the cop who wants to frisk me that I'm actually an award-winning writer on a fellowship to the best arts school in the country. I can't explain to the women on the Upper West Side who scrunch up their faces in anguish/anger/contempt when I walk into a subway car, that I would no sooner ask them for money, than I would own a gun, or smoke crack, or do any of those things they may associate with someone who looks like me. None of these things can be said. Instead, people of color walk around with those everyday slights, with a feeling of anxiety and low-level paranoia.  It's not helpful to be told to bottle this up until the next riot or crisis, at which point people of color will be forced into another artificial dialogue, contrived to assuage the immediate fears of violence but not to address the actual problem of racism.

As a nation, we have to do better. As friends, we have to talk about what concerns us. There is no such thing as 'talking too much' about an issue if it's in the news and directly affects the your friends. Instead of willfully creating a wall of ignorance, we can use social media to actually break down those old barriers and listen to each other.

That is all. Namaste. 

1 comment:

peanutbutterinjerasandwiches said...

I am a white mother of a black girl.
Yeah, my facebook friends (well, other than my adoption-circle, maybe MOST of my friends) are so tired of hearing me talk about race, of me sharing articles, of me not being loyal to the white team.
Often when I "share" stuff like this on facebook...nothing but crickets.
And they don't understand/care when I give the short explaination that We (white people) don't get to say when racism is "over", or if someone is over reacting or "playing the race card". Even when I tell them that, as a parent to a black child, it is My Job to shout about it.