Race Matters

This is something I’ve been wanting to write about for awhile. It’s part and parcel of my job this summer, I suppose.

For instance:

Today one of my youth asked me if I’m the sister of the farm director. I said no. She looked confused – “Aren’t all of the staff brothers and sisters?” No, Halima, all white people are not siblings. Neither are all black people siblings. You’re not Marco’s sister.

Another in my group doesn’t care to remember (he’s quite smart; he could) his group members’ names. We had to fill out a form that included a list of all of our group members. He wrote: “Mohawk, scarf [referring to one of my Muslim students], white guy, white girl…” Yes. His group leader, after almost two weeks, wasn’t “Abby” or “Abigail”, but “white girl.”

My most recent immigrant asked me when I came to the United States. It hasn’t yet occurred to her that there are lots of people that are born here. And that it’s pretty safe to assume that blue-eyed white people (of which I am one) fall into that group.

We all laughed over a story told by my Puerto Rican student, who (as a 15 year old) lost his (European) mother the first time he visited a mall in the US. Too many blond-haired and blue-eyed women, and they all looked the same.
So, there’s that.
There’s also what I’ve been reading lately. Like Americanah, which I really, really loved.
And I read, for the first time, White Privilege, as part of my work orientation.
Also, I should also mention some PostSecret postcards that I had to examine during training for a community organization. (I tried to find the  postcards in question and couldn’t. At least not easily.) They all dealt with race in some way. One of the postcards read, “I became a pro shoplifter once I realized unassuming white women are invisible.”
This line in particular has stuck with me. I think about it every time I go into a store in this neighborhood. Unassuming white woman walks in the door. Will a staff member ask me to check-in my backpack or tote bag? Will I be greeted warmly, or followed around?
Anyways, I don’t really intend all this to lead up to a certain point about race. Except for this, a vague sort of admonition to my past self who was understandably naive about race: race matters. At least in this country, for now. In rural WI, maybe not very much. But here, and in lots of other places in this country, yes. It does. A lot.

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