Do You Know You Are White?

First Black

In looking for a way to share my sermon from last weekend, I came across this CNN piece from last February. Although I appreciate the stories shared in The First Time I Realized I Was Black, I struggle with this because the premise of the question puts the onus on black people to recognize their difference.  Once again, people of color are on display doing the work of explaining racism.  Time and again the work against racism reinforces marginalization by assuming the the position of a white gaze.  I can only imagine what white viewers of this CNN piece think, but I know that my reaction was basically, “well duh!”  Why is no one asking white people when they first realized they were white?  I actually have asked this question in workshop settings challenging people (a racially mixed group) to think about and share when they were first aware of their own “race”.  The difference between non-white and white answers was shocking to me and I’m sure it is indicative of the biggest disconnect in racial discourse.  All of the non-white people who grew up in this country shared recollections of coming to this awareness in childhood and very early in life; all of the white people shared coming to this awareness as adults or even fairly recently late in life.  This means that at least in that particular situation, the non-white people were formed in part by their identity as the “other” while the white people reached adulthood without any sense of being placed as an outsider because of their race.

So, last weekend, as part of our commitment to the Unitarian Universalist series of White Supremacy Teach Ins,  I gave a sermon, Weaving Our Stories that challenges the premise of the CNN piece by asking where do people who identify as bi-racial, multi-racial and mixed race fit in the work and conversations to de-center whiteness and end white supremacy?  How do we do this work without asking someone to make a choice between their identities, or worse casting one as good and the other as bad?  How do we not fall into the racist paradigm of the “one drop rule” that shaped segregation in this country and still reverberates in our language, our attitudes and our economics of race and that frankly fuels the relevance of the CNN piece?  I think part of the answer is built into the complex psychology that motivates anyone’s need to answer the question of “the first time I realized I was [non-white]”  But real solutions to our struggles of race can only happen when white people are also willing to answer the question “do you actually know you are white?”

– ALD

…literally, when the wind blows.

Kelly Wallace wrote a great piece for CNN that highlights the way that school dress codes body shame girls and how this complicates parenting (Tues, May 30, 2017). I think it is important for more parents (mothers and fathers) to address how girls in particular are shamed in the school setting. As someone who studies masculinity however, I couldn’t miss one quote in the article that really spoke volumes about how male fragility damages everyone.

In the article, Wallace quotes Dr. Catherine Pearlman’s experience with her daughter being told to change her clothes as an example (community Today blog). Dr. Pearlman is the founder of The Family Coach and author of Ignore It!. She advises parents on all matters of child rearing:

“Pearlman said her daughter, now 13, had been told in the fall by a teacher that she couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys would get turned on and then be embarrassed.”

So in this situation, a 13 year old girl is being told that she needs to feel responsible for adolescent boys’ sexual arousal. What is more, it is assumed that the boy will be embarrassed by his physical response so the message is that his erection is shameful and the 13 year old girl who causes that erection is to blame.

Wow.

As a male bodied person who grew up with a penis, I seem to recall that being 13 years old and being aroused were basically one in the same. Being asked to read in front of the class…‘schwingg’; singing in chorus…‘sproingg’; eating lunch…‘attention!!’. Anyone who would tell a 13 year old girl that her wearing yoga pants is a more likely cause for a 13 year old boy to have an erection than his getting an A on his math test is someone who is at best ill informed about adolescent sexuality and at worst someone with a serious agenda to indoctrinate gender based shame into the lives of young women.

I just wanted to point to this article as a great place to start a conversation among parents and also between parents and children; and not just parents of girls. Parents should share this article with their teenage boys.  This needs to be a conversation between mothers and their sons or any parent of boys and male identified children. Male privilege is not just present in what men are allowed to do or be. Male privilege is present in the blame and responsibility it places on those who are not male identified. It begins by saying to the 13 year old girl that your yoga pants turned him on and ends with a rapist walking free because the defense was able to place blame on the victim’s choice of clothing or appearance.

This is a great article as a starting point for a much deeper conversation.  It is a reminder that men and boys can end sexual violence, but only if we are held responsible for our bodies.

Love your body.

– ALD

Link to original article on CNN.com: Do School Dress Codes End Up Body-Shaming Girls?