Saturday, March 04, 2006


Being a white girl from Danville working in a culturally, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse community, I run into all sorts of "isms." I am constantly keeping myself in check, wanting to know all I can about other races and cultures and communities in order to be as understanding and culturally proficient as possible. But I do run into snags, enter into misunderstandings, speak without thinking, and misrepresent myself.

In two very distinct conversations this week, persons of color threw at me the phrase "white anglo european model," stated in a way that grouped me with a history of oppression, intolerance, racism, hatred. And it stung. Isn't that what isms are about? Generalizations about an individual or a group of people based on the race/culture/class they represent?

In both situations, I found myself remaining decidedly quiet and resisting the impulse to enter into a conversation in which I accuse a person of color of making a generalization about me. Because as a person of white (I really prefer to say pink) color, as a woman, as a member of the (upper?) middle class, I do have significant advantages in our society. Regardless of who I am as an individual, I represent a system of hierarchical oppression that started long ago and continues today. That, and I am definitely a conflict-avoider.

Not to say that I haven't participated in conversations about race and oppression. I have discussed isms with friends of different races, attended multiple trainings on being more culturally competent in my work, even joked about myself and my culture (such as when a Latina co-worker asked me "do your people really eat fried twinkies?")

I am trying to figure out how I can bridge the divide between "us" and "them," how I can participate meaningfully in racial reconciliation without being afraid of saying the wrong thing or getting lumped in a group of which I would never be a part. That is what really exists at the base of my conflict avoidance. Fear.

I'll be the first to admit that I have racist tendencies in me. You can't grow up in a culture such as ours without making inferences or having prejudices based on your own families' beliefs, media portrayals, or a negative experience.

It's time I nip my fear in the bud, I stop worrying about saying something that might be wrong or racist or inappropriate. Because in neglecting to let these things out of my mouth, I don't allow them to be challenged or corrected. Instead of being afraid of what I say or do, I should be afraid of what I think. It starts with what's on the inside.

And there is the possiblity that racial reconciliation will not happen, that it cannot happen, that instead of reconciliation it might be transformation, rather than two sides coming to full agreement, two sides being transformed in the process of learning about each other.

And personal transformation really is the goal. As Gandhi so perfectly said,

"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves."