Photo: Flickr, Mikel Martinez de Osaba
Troublemakers are the ones who get things done. I just wish I could stomach the idea without feeling immense anxiety. As a child the fear of getting into trouble was a constant source of stress for me. My imagination would run wild with notions of outlandish consequences for even minor offenses, probably fueled more by my reading Roald Dahl books than anything I ever experienced in real life. As an adult I’ve still got a mostly rule-abiding, law-following personality, but when I feel that burst of adrenaline course through my veins at the sight of a police car, I can say to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And I immediately feel relief.
That’s because I’m white.
This weekend my mom invited my husband, daughter, and me over to swim at the hotel where she and my nephew were staying for July 4th. Before we left my husband asked, “Do you think it’s going to be a problem that we’re clearly just showing up to swim?” “Not at all,” I said without a second thought. “If anyone asks, we’ll just tell them we’re guests of my mom.” But after I’d had a minute to think about it I said, “Plus, we’re white.”
We walked into the lobby wearing our bathing suits and carrying nothing more than a beach bag. Anyone could have figured out that we probably weren’t staying there. Did anyone question us? No. All we got were some adoring looks and comments on our cute baby as we made our way to the pool. I had the slightest twinge of anxiety over not exactly following the rules, but I was able to put it aside, knowing that even if we were asked, all we needed to do was to mention that we were guests of the hotel and all would be well. Because we’re white.
Compare that to my friend Rahiel Tesfamariam, founder of Urban Cusp, who experienced racial profiling at a hotel where she was staying for, of all things, a conference about social justice.
My whiteness is what allows me to move about spaces without thinking my existence is going to get me into trouble. Add a husband and a cute baby into the mix, and together we can go practically anywhere without a second glance. In fact, we are invited into spaces where we don’t even have a right to be. I can get dressed nicely (or not) and occupy pretty much any space I want without being asked to move or questioned. I take it for granted daily. Just like white men don’t have to think about how dark it is when they want to go out for a walk outside, or think about how what they’re wearing might incite the sexual harrassment of a stranger they encounter, or if they up speak or say “just” too much that they won’t be taken seriously.
As a white woman my feminism is the lens that gives me clarity and creates my blind spot. For so long I asked myself and others, “Why can’t men see their access and privilege?” when I wasn’t even looking for my own.
Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). White privilege, I see you. I’m trying to see you.