Each one of us, as an individual, is a product of the environment that we were raised in. We carry with us the information that we received as children and we take that data and use it to navigate our lives. Some of us receive messages of hope and love, while others receive messages of fear and danger. For some of us, the messages can get jumbled up and we have to decrypt them in order to move forward. I received many competing messages as a child and this required my critical thinking skills to be honed at an early age. I needed to take in everything and move forward with the information that seemed the most rational.
I was lucky to have open-minded parents who did not judge people based on their race, religion, gender, etc. but with my extended family, I was not so lucky. My Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents on both sides of my family each had their own understandings of other humans and they were extremely biased toward white people. Some of them were outright racist, while others were passively racist, but not one among them was open to the possibility that people of color could be good humans. After all, you can spend your whole life never saying a bad word about another person, but if you let others degrade a group of people in front of you without speaking up, you are just as complicit as the outwardly racist individuals among us.
I learned early in life that I was to fear certain people – specifically black men. I would say that I do not know where this fear came from since we lived in a segregated city, but now that I am older I know exactly what it was about. It was drawn from the myths that surround black men in America. Myths fueled by the fact that my Nana grew up in Andalusia, Alabama, where Jim Crow was the norm. Myths fueled by my grandfathers and uncles feeling slighted by Affirmative Action and supposedly losing their jobs to the [word I refuse to use here]. Myths instilled in me so that I would not bring home any black friends to watch television or swim in the pool at my grandparent’s house. Myths that would make me afraid to walk alone at night on campus for fear of being jumped by a random person of color. Myths that would frame my views on white men and make me let go of any damage they may have done because they were seen as the protectors. Myths that continue to fuel the racist actions of Americans that see a danger in faces of color when, at the end of it all, white people are really the danger.
White people have been oppressing all other races of humans since the beginning of time. Myths of people of color being dangerous were touted in order to protect the power that white people have always held. If black and brown people are deemed dangerous, then white people can continue to hold on to the structures that keep these people enslaved. If the myths surrounding people of color continue to be upheld by racist whites in America, then men of color (and women of color and children of color) will be tagged as dangerous and, therefore, considered dispensable. If this is a thought that has never crossed your mind, you are not paying attention.
Here are some of the names of victims of this power struggle that you might want to look further into if you have no reference for them: Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Jordan Edwards, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland. And these are just the people that were reported on the national news. For an even wider view, take a look at this page on the Mapping Police Violence page that lists all the unarmed people of color killed in 2015. There were over 100 people. If this is not an epidemic, I do not know what is. White privilege has caused the horrible disease of racism to fester in this country for far too long.
When I was a child, I had a few friends at school that were people of color. Although I lived in an area of town that was almost fully inhabited by white folks, I went to an integrated school. It may seem odd, since I lived in Niagara Falls, NY, but the city had to bus kids from one end of town to the other in order to integrate the schools. This meant that although we went to school together, we rarely interacted outside of that space. The entire time I was growing up I never attended a birthday party for one of my friends of color and they never attended mine. There was a black family that lived on my grandparents street and I would go over to their house to play with the girl that was my age, but when I invited her over to swim in my grandparent’s pool, my grandparents told me they didn’t want her to swim at their house. It was sad and demeaning for my friend and it made me see clearly that my grandparents were not the wonderful humans I had always thought them to be.
Up until that point in my life, I had seen them as perfect rather than human beings who are fallible. I was shielded by my mother from their racist attitudes and as a child I was not observant. Until that day, I never noticed their racism, but after that, I saw it everywhere. After that day I started questioning them at every turn. When my uncles would make racist comments I would yell at them. When my grandparents would complain about people on television that were not white, I would question them. I became the annoying little kid that was always making a fuss over what they perceived as nothing.
As I grew into a teenager, my questioning went from being precocious to annoying. They hated that I was always telling them how to ‘behave’. They continued to instill fear of black bodies in me, but I began rejecting that fear. In high school, I started hanging out with a more diverse crowd of friends. I stopped bringing my friends over to my grandparent’s house, no matter their race because I no longer wanted to incorporate my friends into my family. I started to compartmentalize my friend groups and stopped overlapping in order to appease everyone.
By the time I went to college, I had successfully separated my family from my friends. I had one friend, in college, that I brought home for events, but other than that I kept my friends at arm’s length from my relatives. This, I believed, was the only way to have a diverse set of friendships without the torture of having them be around my family members. Of course, this was also a way for me to be comfortable in the situation and, I admit, it was a cop-out. I was trying so hard to make everyone happy that I was ignoring the fact that my family was not improving their understandings around people of color. They were remaining in that space of fear and myth that they had always been in while I was evolving away from them. I pretended that everything was fine when I was around them, but inside I was tearing myself apart to make everyone happy.
Now, as an adult, many of my racist relatives have passed away or I have drifted from them. My younger cousins have turned out to be more open-minded than the older members of my family, so I continue to interact with them. I have one uncle, in particular, who was one of my closest relatives growing up that I have almost completely cut ties with. I text him on his birthday and on major holidays, but that is where our interactions end. I do not see him in person anymore because I cannot handle his views on life in general, and more specifically his views on people that are not white.
That is my personal origin story of fear. How I have come to understand the ways in which I was inundated with misinformation at a young age and how I slowly came away from that bad intel. But I am only one white girl. What about the rest of us? What are we doing? Why are there black men being killed in the streets, for no reason, while white men who inflict terror are safely captured? Why are black bodies feared? Why are criminals who are people of color branded as terrorists, while white criminals are framed as disturbed? There are many answers to the questions above, but there is one thing that can connect it all. The struggle for power. Gaining and holding on to power. Grabbing the power that many white people feel is their God-given right and never letting go. If this means that everyone else must suffer, well, they just do not care about that. Power is all engrossing and can flood the world with misinformation that allows horrible events to take place on a grand scale. Power is what has led to us having the worst possible person as POTUS and power is what will continue to keep unqualified, sexist, bigots running the world.
Power is what caused white men to purchase black people and bring them across the ocean to work the fields. Power is what caused white men to rape black women and then turn their own offspring into slaves. Power is what caused white men to lynch black men for acts that were almost never criminal offenses. Power has been the catalyst for every bad thing that has happened in this world and power continues to drive all the decisions that are made in this country by white men.
The struggle for power has created myths around the powerless. Myths like the ones I mentioned above that made me believe in theories about other people that were beyond incorrect. Power has caused white people, and straight white men, in particular, to strive to be number one at all costs. And that cost has created a caste system in America that is predicated on the rich maintaining the power and continuing to oppress everyone else.
So how do we fix this system of abuse, terror, misinformation, and fear? I do not have an immediate answer to this question, but what I do know is that we must bond together as humans. We must use collective action to drive the forces of power that oppress those with less power into the darkest recesses of human history. We need to protest and vote. We need to listen to each other’s stories and take action directed by the oppressed. As white people (and white women, in particular) we need to be mindful of each person’s story and not just work in our own self-interest. We need to learn from others how to move forward. We need to be silent and allow a space for women of color to lead, but we also must speak up when it is clear that we can move the narrative of life in America to a better place.
We need to STOP being complicit in the oppression that is inflicted by the straight, white, men in our life. We gain nothing from being on their side. Because, in the end, those that seek to retain power will see us as a hindrance to their agenda, even if we are their sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, daughters, wives, or friends. We must speak up when necessary, listen and defend when needed, and use our vote to move policy to a more progressive place. Conservatism and capitalism are the siblings of oppression and the only way to make the Constitution of America a true reality is to dismantle the patriarchy that has oppressed us for eons and move toward an equal and open society. With liberty and justice for ALL.
Peace and resistance,
Chantale aka hippiegrrl