Namaya: As a white guy, how does racism affect my life?
I'm a white, middle-class, middle-aged man with more than a few dollars in the bank. I see the police and can wave at them and drive safely on by. If I reach into my coat pocket for my wallet and identification I will probably not get shot with 40 bullets. I can shout out my magic protective words, "Don't shoot me, I'm white. Put on some James Brown, see I can't dance!" Oops, did I just fall into a stereotype? So, as a white guy does racism affect my life?
Being white and of European descent, I don't worry that I'll be mistaken for a brown Muslim named Mohammed, strip-searched, and be forced to undergo a rectal probe at the airport. However, given Timothy McVeigh's role in blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma it would seem reasonable that white guys should equally be suspect and the United States should have launched an invasion on Scotland. (Though it is still puzzling to me why 15 Saudis attacked the World Trade Center and the U.S. invaded Iraq and not Saudi Arabia: A case of the U.S. being geographically challenged?)
When I apply for work and they look at my credentials or college education employers will not wonder if I was successful because of affirmative action. The employer may assume I did it on my own merit or at the least perhaps if I did attend an Ivy League school, it was because I was smart or in the case of our former president from a wealthy and well connected family. If I was from that well-connected family a gentleman's C grades will do.
When I go into a grocery store and decide not to use a shopping cart and stuff a few things in my pockets, generally, it is assumed that I was in a rush and the management doesn't call the police. Because I am a white, middle-aged man who is not walking around in raggedy clothes mumbling to myself (most times) it's assumed that I'm harmless, a little careless in not using a cart, but not a significant problem. If I was Black or Hispanic, how long would it take before the police are called?
I can walk into a local bank and cash a check without an ID. They will not ask me for four pieces of ID, even though I might have had a bank account there for years. I will not have the bank guard calling for back up because I get in an argument with a teller over an error in my bank account. As a white, middle-aged, middle-class professional, I know she will defer to her manager, and we will resolve this.
If I move, I can be sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and in which I would want to live. I don't need to ask my friend to find an apartment. I can let the grass grow on my front lawn, have the hedges a bit shabby and the neighbors will think "He's still a bit of a hippy." But if my name was Gonzales would the neighbors think, "Those damn Hispanics ? one moves into the neighborhood and look what happens." It is the hundreds of small clues during the course of day that says, "You're different. You're not quite like us." If there is a fistfight at the school do they assume the Black or Hispanic youngster is the aggressor?
When an African American friend of mine comes to town, do I need to give them a heads up about our local police department's history of racial profiling or bias? If he is stopped does he need to do his black thing?
"Yes, sir officer. I know it looks suspicious being a six-foot-tall black man wearing a suit and tie waiting on the street corner for my wife. No, I wasn't casing the store for a robbery. Yes, officer I have identification. Yes officer, observe my hands as they are going into my pocket. No, I don't have a gun or a shiv."
Do people of color and various ethnicities feel safe and welcome coming into town? Will they spend their money for shopping? Will they buy second homes here? Will they invest their talents as lawyer, carpenter, artist or poet? Will the richness of many diverse cultures that have strengthened our collective national cultures be welcomed and become an asset to our community?
Does racism affect me in my life? On the surface it doesn't. As a white, middle-aged man, living in a predominantly white community, racism can be a ghosted shadow drifting invisibly by. However, racism and bias and discrimination are a sure and slow corrosive acid that eats away at the fabric of a community. It says there is an "us and them." It is another wall in the community that divides neighbors, differenced solely based on ethnicity or color.
T. Namaya lives in Brattleboro. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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