2017 Showed A Lot Of Ugly. And How White People Can Do Better In 2018

1 Jan

We made it through a year of this current administration’s agenda which stood for the hatred of those they consider “other” and a threat to their “making America Great again” dream. We became angry, and our hearts broke, over and over again, with each dismissal of a case of a police officer who got off after killing an unarmed Black person. We watched Puerto Rico’s call for assistance be placated with thrown paper towels. We saw our sisters and brothers from other countries who have lived and worked here trying to build their own versions of the American Dream be torn away from their families and deported, all to make us “safer.” We just learned that all the members of the White House Advisory HIV/AIDS Counsel were fired. I could go on and on, but you get it. You lived through it, too.

In my own life in 2017, I strove to go beyond “waking up” and to take committed action to fight racism, and break down the systems of structural racism that exist in our lives at even what may seem, the smallest of levels. Day to day, I work to model what it means to question the micro-aggressions I witness, to share what I’ve learned about how structural and institutional racism works so that when someone brings up things like “the everyone should be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps like my immigrant family (with white skin–that part left out) did line..” I can respond to that notion.

As, I’ve mentioned here before, one of the main things I focus on in regards to race and cross-racial connections, is how white-centered many physical spaces are, and how white European-centric everything–workplace employment, policies and norms; arts spaces; educational institutions; businesses, is. Every day, pretty much every minute of the day, I am looking at life through an inclusion/exclusion lens. When I came across the following, of course, it gave me pause:

 

real estate staff
This photo represents the staff of a local real estate company here in Providence, Rhode Island. It is an advertisement featured on the back cover of a local monthly magazine. I don’t want to make assumptions as to people’s race or ethnicity, and yet, a full-page of white faces of this forty-seven member staff makes my mind race with questions, like, wow, don’t you guys notice that you are surrounded by people who look just like you, and that there is an absence of Brown and Black people?  How do you think a person of color feels when they see this ad, or walk into your office to use your services?  How would a person of color feel applying to be a realtor at your agency? Would they feel welcome?

Those last two questions came up when I showed the photo to my boyfriend, who prefers to be called Black. His response, after jokingly saying, “hmmmm, let me think about what stands out about this photo…” was, “well, it can also be cultural. People from our culture might feel like they aren’t interested in becoming a realtor, that that’s not for them…Also, the idea to save or invest money isn’t reinforced. Instead, most of the images in the media are messages that reinforce the idea of showing income level through material possessions instead of investments.” He went on to go deeper into those thoughts by noting that of course “not all Black people” fall into the category of not saving, investing, or believing they can’t go after a certain type of endeavor because of the color of their skin.

I wish I could say I didn’t try to whitesplain respond to him with questions like, “But do you think that maybe part of it is that Black people think something is not for them because for so long they never saw themselves represented in a variety of careers, whether in the media or their day-to-day lives, and that is part of what structural racism is and does?” And thinking about the real-estate photo, I thought about the whole history of red-lining in real-estate which shut Black people out of being able to buy homes in certain neighborhoods, of not being able to get mortgages, or if they did, they had unreasonably high interest-rates. And, I thought, yeah, could this have something to do with people of color not wanting to get into the real estate field, especially in an entity like the one shown in the photo?  My boyfriend said that if someone wants to get into the field, though, they will, they’ll fight against the standard, or they’ll go off on their own and do it.

In reflecting on our brief conversation, I am not sure if he felt this way about what we were talking about, but he seemed to be saying, not everything is about racism, it’s about culture, too. It seemed like he was keeping an open mind., and saying that just because they have a white staff, doesn’t mean they are a racist company. I appreciated his perspective because I’m starting to feel at times like all my obsessive noticing of whiteness, has led me to jump to conclusions–to quickly categorize something as racist. Still, in thinking about the real estate ad, it made me feel like structural racism is why we have this photo. Why majority-white businesses keep on keeping on without noticing their whiteness, or how their mono-racial make-up excludes, makes people feel unwelcome, upholds the benefits of white privilege and systems of white supremacy, and can lead to inequality and preferential treatment to those with white skin, thereby perpetuating, in this case, what happens with real estate: white neighborhoods stay white, and neighborhoods with people of color stay that way, and the resources between the two stay lopsided.

I hope that in 2018 white people take real action in dismantling this lopsidedness once and for all. Hold me to doing my part, too, please.

I thank you all for your readership and support this past year. Here’s to a much better 2018, filled with love, joy, compassion, and equality. Happy New Year to all.

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