What kind of blog is this, anyway?

A political one, apparently!

I found this post on whiteness, through feministe.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.  What does it mean to be white?  What does it mean to me to be white?

We had a team meeting the other day where one of my colleagues, an Aboriginal woman, kept talking about ‘white society’.  It rankled.  I felt offended.  I couldn’t figure out why.  I mean… really?  I am offended that someone who deals with real racism, both emotionally real and materially real, every day, is calling me white?  I AM white!

Part of it is the privilege, as the science girlpointed out.  Privilege is a topic that’s come up in my life a lot, lately -at work, and in the blogosphere.  Part of privilege is not seeing your own privilege.  When Malcom Turnbull says he knows what it’s like to be poor because he grew up in a single-parent household, that’s privilege talking out of it’s special bits.  Privileged people are proud  of anything they can find in their past or present that makes them seem not privileged.  Just read stuff white people like– it’s full of examples of instances where white (read: privileged) people pretend to be poor by wearing vintage or pre-aged clothes.  Or pretend to be social un-privileged by reliving highschool geekery.  Or championing their similar-yet-different minority friends like a shield.  It makes them feel special.  It means that they can fend off attacks.  For instance, when people tell me I’m privileged, I automatically think about how tight money was when I was a kid.  Forget it.  nice try.  It might have been tight, but we never went without essentials.  If we had had to, we had family and friends who could have helped.  And a government that saw us as one of ‘them’.  And a media that fed me positive messages about people like me.

I am privileged.  I still am not sure what to do with that, but it’s a fact.

Another part of it, both of privilege and of the whiteness issue is this thing where everyone wants to be special, everyone thinks they’re different, which means that we don’t think that we are part of the ‘mainstream’ (whatever that might mean)

But it’s more than that.

I have a very culturally sensitive work environment.  And I sometimes jokingly say ‘no one ever respects MY culture’.  Of course, I am joking.  But I’m also kind of serious.

I’m not saying that I think I need special treatment (although, I wouldn’t say no… ok, maybe I would.  But only to seem self righteous).  I am not saying that I think my culture is more important than someone else’s culture.  I am just saying that, just because I’m white, doesn’t mean you know me.  Just like, just because you  are {insert label here} doesn’t mean I know you.  You know?  I am more than just some white girl. Ok, yes, I am  a white girl (so very, very white) but that’s not all I am.  I am a product of my personality and upbringing and age and environment and experience, and those things differ from other white people’s.  Sometimes to the extent that I might (gasp!) have more in common with (gasp!!) someone who is ethnically different (OMG GASP!!) but maybe the same age or sex or just plain old personality type as me.

I had a bit of an epiphany the other day.  I was talking to one of the more important people here about an image she wants me to make for a powerpoint she is doing for a conference about cultural diversity in the Health system.  She was talking about how CALD people (that’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse.  Oh, yes, it sure is) are not compatible with the mainstream.

And I thought… I am.

Everyone has to deal with two cultures.  Maybe even three.  There’s your internal culture.  You know, the stuff you don’t even know about yourself because it just is, it hasn’t been expressed yet, but it’s part of you.  Then there’s your personal culture.  Family, friends, tradition, all that.  It’s different for every group, every group within a group.  Then there’s the mainstream.

The thing is, the mainstream is not my culture.  I despise many many things about it.  I take as little of it as I can on board.  But they are ultimately compatible.  And that is where I am privileged.

I almost had an argument with someone in the tea room last week.  We were talking about weddings, and wedding traditions.  One of our collegues’ son was about to propose to his girlfriend, and she was talking about how he was going about it, and what the wedding was likely to be like.  And F, who is Persian, kept going on about ‘in my culture’ and ‘traditionally’ and talking about which side of the family paid for things etc etc.  Well, quite frankly, traditionally, in my culture, the bridegroom’s family pays for everything, too.  Because the girl is supposed to have a dowry.  And if you are talking traditionally, then after the wedding ceremony but before the reception, everyone chucks the newly weds onto their bed and then locks them in the room until they have sex, so that they can display the bloodied sheet at the reception.  Is that common practice now?  No.  It have been dropped, along with other traditions which no longer suited our current way of life, like the bride’s father giving her away, because traditionally he owned her, and eh… oh, wait…

But it’s still part of my rich and varied culture.  If you’re going to make me associate with white culture, I’m going to do it all the way.  I don’t just get pop songs and chick flicks.  I also get Poe and Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth and druids and Queen Mab and, I will admit, a really bad culinary tradition.

The Science Girl talked about how not seeing your whiteness is a sign of privilege.  How not acknowledging it buys into that.

When I was in China, I was reminded every day that I was different.  People stared, pointed, shouted, talked among themselves.  Some days you felt like a rock star, a hero, a god.  Some days it was hard to leave the house, because it was just too hard to fend it off, to be the centre of all attention when all you wanted to do was be yourself.  And that was the positive discrimination.  I cannot imagine what it must be like for people who face that every day – but with anger, fear and hate behind it.  I cannot imagine how strong you would have to be to function under that kind of pressure.

The hardest part of living in China was the culture shock.  People can tell you about it, you know what it’s going to be like, but nothing can prepare you.  Everything is different.  I mean EVERYTHING.  Things that you didn’t even know could be different.  What’s more, the rules are different – how you behave, what you say, how you get thigns done.  The script has changed and you don’t have one.  Everything is harder, takes more thought, more effort, more time, more energy.  You are no longer compatable with society.  Even when it is accomodating, the system is not for you anymore.  It is for someone else, and you ahve to work to fit it.

I have not taken my race for granted since China.  I work hard not to do so.  Sometimes I ignore it, as I try and ignore the race of others.  Not because it is irrelevant.  But because I wish it could be.  Because even though it is not possible to move past it, it is possible to try.

I don’t really know what it means to be white.  But I know what it means to be me, my age, living in my city, and liking the things I like.  I also know what it is to be privileged.  Who I am and what I stand for: my culture (undefined and amorphous as it is) and my whiteness.  They are intertwined oh, so closely.

But they are not the same.

One thought on “What kind of blog is this, anyway?

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. It can be scary to delve into our personal feelings about race, and about privilege. I’m crafting a post right now about the privilege that I have. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and that’s how I know I’m on the right track.

    CVT on the choptensils blog sent me a link to a post he wrote that you might find interesting: http://choptensils.blogspot.com/2008/08/on-white-culture.html
    He talks specifically about how individualism is inherent in white culture.

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