How has being white shaped my life?

Tracey McKee – April 23, 2024

I, like most white people, can spot flagrant, inhuman acts towards people of color as racist.  And most of us know that snide remarks and intentional slights cross the line. But what about the less obvious forms racism can take, like trying to relate to a Black person by sharing how you have felt oppressed at one time, or adding diverse folks to your team/workplace and not creating the environment to welcome them?

This summer, I began reading Robin DeAngelo’s book Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm. It has ushered me into the next phase of my development by uncovering and addressing my own racism. The book has been uncomfortable for me at times because I can see myself in the examples/concepts shared. Ouch…

At the beginning of the book, DiAngelo asks white people how race has shaped our lives.  She points out that white people are often stumped by this question because we do not think of ourselves in racial terms: we have been the standard to which every other race and ethnicity has been held.  I have to admit I haven’t ever thought about how being white has shaped my life.

Here are some of the things I came up with when I asked myself this question:

  • I have always been able to find things I need for my skin and hair.
  • I had dolls that were my skin color.  I don’t remember seeing dolls of other colors.
  • I have felt out of place (racially) only a couple of times in my life.
  • I was used to seeing white people in professional and leadership positions.
  • I have never worried that my skin color would prevent me from doing something I wanted to do or that it would make people assume I had limitations.
  • I did not have exposure to Black, Native American, or LatinX history.  The history I learned was focused primarily on white people and their achievements.
  • I have never been affected by the plights endured by BIPOC people and have been ignorant of those plights.
  • I did not have a close friendship with a person of color until more recently in my life. Before that, I liked the people of color I knew superficially, but still held biases about those I didn’t.

As I reviewed my notes, I learned a lot. There was nothing new here, but writing it down showed me how all of these pieces together have made me ignorant about people of other races and ethnicities. Understanding that I live in an insulated world helps me consider more earnestly how living outside that world can be challenging, frustrating, and disheartening. This learning helps me ask the question, so what do we do about that and how can I do better?

Tracey is a blog contributor for Brownicity. Her background includes training and organizational development, employee relations, and corporate recruiting in Charlotte’s banking industry.  A wife and mother of two daughters, Tracey began her racial healing journey when she participated in What Lies Between Us in 2018.  She was moved to participate in the workshop as her concern grew about the number of police shootings where unarmed black men were killed.  Colin Kaepernick’s  kneeling during the singing of the national anthem solidified her desire to learn and do more about ending racism.

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