I read this article that came through my public radio WBUR email. When Did You Become White?: The Question All ‘White’ Americans Must Answer/.Janna Malamud Smith by Janna Malamud Smith.
I’m still not sure of the answer, but it’s been worth thinking about. The writer describes an incident from when she was a child, and that oddly made me feel like it was a competition. What does it say that I didn’t encounter my whiteness until later? My French Canadian grandfather often spoke derogatorily about Blacks, but it was always in the same breath with the Polish, Italians, Spanish speakers, and there were several “sonabahole” brothers he’d stopped speaking to. He was more of an equal opportunity person of prejudice, so that doesn’t really count, right? As a kid I just thought, “Pepere hates everyone, and he always gives me a Mountain Dew.”
So I guess I’d have to say high school. Does that make me more racist/ignorant? And does that experience even count? In high school I noticed there were Black kids because there were so few and they hung out together, but I didn’t think of myself as white. I just was, which is the definition of white privilige, isn’t it? The only Black teacher was also the sponsor for the National Honor Society, and with him we’d riff off the SNL skit at the time that featured Eddie Murphy as Velvet Jones advertising his school “You can be a ho.” We joked that it could be a fundraiser and he could be our pimp. I know, I know. What the ever living what, now? My only defence is we all thought it was funny and it was the 80s.
Like the author of the article I am still learning about my part in systemic racism and that is a work in progress. And I probably should think more about that ho fundraiser thing. I was in on the joke and felt safe. But now I wonder, did he?