I’m participating in the Delaware 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge, so I’ll be posting probably the next 21 weekdays about this. I’d like to be a better anti-racist and ally to my BIPOC colleagues, and this seems like a constructive step.
- When did you first become aware of your racial identity?
- What messages did you learn about race from your school and family?
- Did those messages align with what you’ve seen in your life?
- When has how others perceived your racial identity affected how they treat you?
I’m white, so I had the privilege of not developing much of a racial identity until late in high school. I just didn’t really think about it. I grew up in a very white town in Canada. I spent some time with local First Nations elders growing up, because my mom worked on a Masters of First Nations Studies and wrote a book on some of the local cultures and intersections thereof.
I remember thinking vaguely that it was racist that all the Chinese people in Barkerville, the Gold Rush historic site near where I grew up, were forced to live in Chinatown because everyone else was racist, but I didn’t think about it in context of “everyone else” being white, or white like me. I remember when my great-uncle died when I was 7 or 8 that I was surprised that the man who eulogized him, who’d been his best friend for years, was Chinese. I don’t remember if I had a feeling other than surprise about it, but I think I probably had some racist expectations that people were mostly friends with people who looked like them, despite multiple cousins who were Métis.
This was despite my immediate family being fairly firm that you treat people as people, you treat individuals with respect, and their stories/backgrounds/identities as valuable. My mother tends to approach life as an ambulatory set of eyeballs with unfortunately high-maintenance scaffolding, but she – and my dad, and my stepmom – trained as a journalist, so you respect (and extract, and document) people’s stories. But that approach also tends to elide reflection on your own race. My dad told me about how the majority-black Bay Area blues community was incredibly important to him as a community and emotional support after the messy divorce that meant he had to leave Canada and didn’t get to see his kid. But, for obvious reasons, that was later.
Moving to the US was different. I think the first time I was really, sharply, aware of race and how it impacted my treatment even in a progressive town, in a high school that “didn’t track” students, was when I took a class called – something like Women and Society? I was taking mostly college-geared classes, AP Statistics and Biotechnology and Shakespeare, and needed my social studies class for my junior or senior year. And the social studies classes weren’t split up like the math classes with their levels or the English classes with their levels of ambition. So I realized, walking into that class the first day, that this was more Black students than I’d seen in any of my classes the entire rest of the year.
And this was late in high school, where we were mostly picking classes based on college prospects and advisor recommendations, and it hit me that this meant that these students weren’t being encouraged to aim for 4-year universities like I was. I was angry.
In general, people tend to treat me well because of my race. I’m also fat, and a woman, so there are complicating factors, but I’m white, and have a white-sounding name. But the worst thing I’ve ever worried about when pulled over by the police is that the driver would get a speeding ticket. For the speeding that they were definitely doing. I think some of my colleagues of color have been slightly wary of me as a potential collaborator or ally or friend because I’m white? But I can’t say that’s not justified, having seen some of how they’re treated, and I don’t know how to alleviate any of that wariness without being weird and pushy in ways that are significantly weirder and pushier than I think anyone would be comfortable with.
Which this might help with! Who knows.