Don’t freak out. I’m not saying I walk around harassing the privileged race on the regular. What I mean by this is, I say and do things to deliberately provoke a reaction. Why do I do this? For starters, I feel entitled. I believe I should feel shame for thinking this way, but I do not. I believe that I am entitled to say what I want, when I want to white people.
My reasoning?-history, and a deep mistrust that I have only recently realized exists within myself. Does this mean I dislike white people? – no. Some of my best friends are members of the privileged race. It means that I say and do things to constantly remind them of their privilege. It is very arrogant of me to take this position. However, we live in a society founded and governed in arrogance, so I guess you can say I am a product of my environment.
It is also a test. I am always curious as to how my comments will be responded to and received. I have to observe EVERYTHING. I pay attention to body language, facial expression, tone, etc. I place white people under the same scrutiny black people are faced with daily. I want them to feel some small semblance of what it is like to be judged based on the color of their skin and not the content of their character.
At times I feel my profession as a teacher places me smack in the middle of a setting ripe for discerning the content of character. My colleagues and I often discuss student achievement and growth. I am always intrigued by some of the surprise at the performance of specific students. It can be frustrating to watch a student perform at their best inconsistently, because as their teacher you know what they are capable of achieving. I often probe my colleagues in conversation, challenging their surprise. If I suggest poor performance is due to a lack of effort or possibly environmental factors, I watch to see how quick they jump on my bandwagon. Whether I believe this to be true or not is irrelevant. I am interested in sifting out how they really perceive that student, and students of color in general.
When I notice something stereotypical of people of color, and I comment, I wait with baited breath…will this privileged person agree/disagree? Will they join in and comment on the stereotype? Do they seem confused or shocked at my comment? Do they seem hesitant to respond? Do they think before they speak? Do they laugh nervously? I pay close attention to these reactions and responses, because I believe they will show me WHAT and WHOM I am dealing with.
It isn’t fair that I test people and make judgements, but it also isn’t fair that I feel like I have to in order to keep myself safe. At the end of the day, this is how I assert power in a world in which I feel powerless most of the time. So, at the risk of being viewed as “angry” or “sassy”, I just say “anything” to keep an unseen enemy off balance.
You may be wondering how this affects my personal relationships. I am wondering the same myself. I have several close relationships with white people, people whom I trust deeply. I still provoke them; however I think that overtime this provocation has created space in our relationships to discuss the disparity between various groups in this country. Yet, I must admit that while I trust these individuals, I do not always feel safe. It becomes evident to me every time social or political issues arise, and I began to feel anxiety at the thought of these issues coming up in conversation. I worry that the conversation will come when I learn they are not who I thought they were, and I am reminded that there is a great divide between our worlds. It really stresses me out! With every interaction I feel as though I have to calculate risk- what to say, how to say it, when to speak up. I censor myself because I worry about their feelings if confronted with the bias and underlying prejudice in their statements, thoughts, and actions. This is irony at its best. And all the while I wonder, are they doing the same? Are they saying what they really mean, think, and feel?
So, I provoke, I observe, I reflect, and then I do it all over again. It is a necessary cycle, a necessary evil; because by any means necessary I will protect my HEART, BODY, and SOUL against anyone or anything that marginalizes any part of me…