Thursday, April 15, 2010

What I think when I pass / see a person of color

This really bothers me, and has for a while, but I don't know what the correct "fix" is.

BTW - hadn't planned on posting any more today, until I read this post on another blog. While most of what she describes is more than valid, I can't help seeing myself in her first described incident.

So... here's what happens when I see a person of color, even at work, even with my friends.

I automatically wonder if something that I am saying or doing is unintentionally offending them.
While I think it's good to have self-awareness about these things, it bothers me that I have put this kind of consciousness into my actions & words, even around those I'm otherwise comfortable with.

For example, in the incident described on the other blog, why does the blogger automatically assume the white woman saw her as a threat because of her color? Maybe she was trying to be nice, because she was walking slower, carrying bags, etc., so she got out of the blogger's way?

I've actually seen this scene played out in real life, when walking with a friend. Woman coming the other way stepped off of the sidewalk as they passed us.
Friend: "did you see that?"
Me: "see what? What did she do?"
Friend: "Stepped off the sidewalk. Racist."
Me: (confused) "I thought she was just getting out of our way so we could walk by"
Friend: (shaking head) "no, it's because I'm black"
Me: (still confused, but not knowing what to say) "Oh..."

I'm a slow walker. Just am. It's not uncommon for me to move out of the way for other to pass me, or to move to the other side of the sidewalk to get out of someone's way. If that person is white, I don't think a thing of it. If that person is a person of color, I automatically wonder if my actions are going to be construed as racist in anyway, even though my intentions are to be nice & accomodating to those around me.

When I worked in retail, we had received a security alert because a pair of black women had been caught on camera shoplifting from several area stores. We were to pay close attention to anyone matching their description (and yes, we got a full description, not just "black women", LOL). Sure enough, later that day, a pair of black women came into the store, who matched the description. We paid special attention to them, stayed a little closer to where they shopped, etc. Assuming they were the women in question, we may have thwarted a robbery. Assuming they weren't, I couldn't help but wonder if someone would cry "racial profiling", or otherwise accuse us of being racist. I was extremely nervous the entire time they were there. Not so much because I thought they might steal, as much as I was afraid I would be accused of being racist. Of course, if the alert had been for two white women, and we were watching them, I wouldn't have been so uncomfortable.

I tend to be fairly shy around people I don't know. This means I tend to avoid eye contact. White person = I don't even think about it. Person of color = I worry that they'll take it the wrong way and think I'm avoiding them because of the color of their skin.

Conversation with a friend:
Me: "I wonder what that kid's up to."Friend: "Why, because he's black? There's lots of black kids around here" (as in, there's nothing to worry about)Me: (dumbfounded) "No, because he's wearing a big puffy coat in 80 degree weather. Makes me wonder what he's hiding under it"Friend "Oh"

Those were just the few examples from my own life that I thought of in the few minutes I sat here typing this.

I guess... it just feels sometimes like as white people we have to walk on eggshells around people of color. We have to watch everything we say, because an innocent statement might be taken out of context and misconstrued. We have to watch what we do, because our actions might be viewed as racist, even if our intentions were actually good. I hate that we, or at least I, can't shake that concern. I hate that my friends of color will probably never get to know the real me, because I will always be walking on eggshells around them. Even if there are fewer eggshells than around strangers, there are still eggshells.

I hate that people of color automatically assume the worst of me, because I'm white.

And you know what? I hate that a lot of people of color have that assumption because they've experienced true racism in their life. I hate that a lot of white people do assume the worst of people of color.

I hate... assumptions about people, in general.

I wish... that we could all learn to take each other as we come, regardless of... well, regardless of anything.

BTW - I'm starting to hate the phrase "person of color". Not sure why, but for some reason it just doesn't sound right to me. But I don't know of any other phrase to encompass essentially all non-whites.
As a LOL, while typing this in a rush, I almost typed "colored people" a couple of times. Makes me think: purple, blue, orange, ... LOL


Marianne said...

So I followed the link you had for the other blog, and the more I read, the angrier I got. I'm all about equality, but seriously, how can there be any when POC take everything as a racial slam. And isn't that a little racial in itself, to think that all non-POC are treating them differently? Like you said, you would have moved because you walk slowly, no matter who you were moving out of the way for. To assume this is solely based on race is discriminating against non-POC. Wish there were a solution...I hate being self-conscious about what I say or do, but I also don't like people assuming I am a racist without even knowing me.

Anonymous said...

I would be quite offended if you were my "friend" and you posted the sidewalk incident on your blog. Also, this is how you spell "racist". If you're going to speak about it, know how to spell it.

Dee said...

Meant to do this awhile ago. Just getting around to post. Can't check as often, so congats on the weight loss. Saw the first few lines of the new post today! Here is an article that I hope will shed some light on some things for anyone that has some questions (like you Marianne):
Not all, but some. Have a great week.

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