White Girl

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I am a white girl. That is one aspect of who I am, and though I vacillate on how important an aspect it is, I won’t deny that being a white girl, both in my home country of the USA and abroad, has a big impact on my experience of life.

I can’t remember ever being unaware of the weight of this particular quality. The elementary school I went to was the “alternative” public school in a university city that pats itself on the back for its progressive values. My formal education was a funny mix of strong progressive curricula taught by somewhat clueless, sometimes guilt-stricken white teachers (that’s how I understand them in retrospect. As a child they controlled knowledge, though rarely had a good grasp over the classroom). In high school I noticed, and enjoyed, when I was the only white student in a class. As a young adult, I roamed the hemisphere of the Americas, living in Trinidad, Brazil, Louisiana, Colombia and elsewhere. My self, my race, and how these shift meaningfully across political communities has always intrigued me.

In recent years, the way I think about being white and female has been jolted. The jolts come cyclically and sometimes unpredictably, the early contractions of the birth of something new. Mixing metaphors, my self conception, especially as it relates to my race, feels like the little silver orb in a pinball machine, bouncing up against walls, flying up ramps into new realms, and dropping down into the darkness of disappointment and shame.

The thing about being me, a white girl (and I’m not every white girl), is the ease with which I move through the world – sometimes doors are opened in front of me, sometimes hands are held out to help me up. Sometimes people smile. Most of the time I feel safe, at least as safe as possible in this world.

But I think about this ease, and the cost of it. As an individual, I want to be known for the qualities I have developed in myself, and for the blueprint my family layed down for me to build upon. I want to be comfortable. As a member of a society, I want to be respectful of the lives and the happiness of others, of their families and histories. I want to work for our lives and our collective and individual happinesses. For me, being white sometimes means that the two lived experiences are contradictory.  I think I’ll have to give something up of myself for the health of this society.

But what? Is it my eager voice that I should quiet when I’m in a group of many other white women and a few women of color, shifting my self from expressive individual to listening demographic? Is it my delicacy that I should trash, as I interpret the critics of society as personal affronts? Should I stop asking for answers from people who have their own shit to figure out? Yes.

5 thoughts on “White Girl

  1. A delicate issue. “White girl”. 🙂
    Let me throw it back at you: does it matter?
    (I wonder if we have had this discussion before. If we have, discard it)
    I am French. Born in Pakistan. Does that make me a Paki frog? 🙂
    What matters is I love Hindi music. Still speak a few words of Hindustani and I can relate.
    I was raised in Asia and Africa. So I’m a mzungu. (White man in Swahili)
    Does that matter? Does it make me a white African? What matters is I speak Swahili
    and I can joke with the locals.
    My wife is Colombian. I know Colombia very well. Some call me “Gringo”. I answer back in Spanish.
    We’ve been living in Mexico for close to 30 years. Soy más mexicano que el mole. But somewhere,
    deep down inside, I’m still French. Not white. The colour of my skin is irrelevant.
    I also speak English with a posh British accent. And hold my beer with the Brits.
    But in the end?
    I’m just a Frenchman who has been around and can mingle.
    Can you mingle? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, definitely delicate. It’s those nuances that make all of us unique, interesting, alive, important. You are not summed up by your skin tone, no one is! But our languages, our cultures are the things that bring us together, and should be recognized and celebrated. However, I am thinking recently that that need to be constantly recognized, to be understood perfectly, in every situation and at the cost of everyone else, can actually get in the way of progress in this area, especially in the USA where we have our own unique racism. Some people here talk about white guilt, but I think that’s a cop out. I’m just thinking (out loud) about how my individuality juts up against my antiracist values. There is definitely a dissonance. Thanks for the comment, I would love to hear more of your thoughts!

    Like

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