I hear this phrase a lot at my current job. I am the only white girl in my shift, but I am far from the only white girl at our place of business and the women I am working with have a lot of interaction with other women of all colors.
But for some reason I keep getting the backhanded compliment of how smart I am for a white girl, how I have the curves of a black girl, how easy I am to get along with for a white girl…
Now don’t get me wrong, the women I work with are wonderful people who are genuinely sweet and the most amicable crew I have worked with for a long time. I am going to be sad to not see them everyday when I begin my new job next Monday. But this is something that seriously bothers me because these women are around my own age and our town and work is loaded with people of all colors, so it’s not like I am the only experience with white people they have.
I could go into this long spheel about why this is so and the history of segregation. But I don’t think I need to. I am not judging these women and I am very grateful to have their affection, friendship, and respect. I know they do not mean anything other than a sincere compliment towards me.
My issue is trying to decide how to bring up my discomfort with some always calling me “the white girl” or “for a white girl” without giving the wrong idea. I am normally pretty good about choosing words, but when it comes to something as sensitive as race, it is very easy to accidentally eat your own foot instead of addressing a problem.
To be fair, self segregation is a huge problem where I live here in the south. I hate it. We have an ugly history that will take more than a few generations to retrain and repair from. I don’t blame these women for having little to no white friends. And it could be that at our work being a good employee is so rare I am being accorded something as a part of my racial construct when it has more to do with my personal integrity.
What I am annoyed with is that anytime I try to bring up these issues is as a white person, sometimes I am treated as if my opinion doesn’t matter or that I have no right to get my feelings hurt because of being “the white girl”. I don’t think that is fair, especially when that is completely against my intentions.
I am an Irish American who grew up in poverty, became a single mother against my wishes, put myself through college, and continue to struggle with health issues on top of even more poverty. I have some experience in the very issues that many women of all colors have to deal with. I am not some crazy other who lived in an isolated bubble. The child starving in the projects has more in common with the child starving in the trailer park than they realize.
What I would like to see is more communication and freedom to question between people of various ethnic groups. No, I don’t know what it is to be black. But I do know what it is like to be working three jobs and still can’t make daycare. I know what it is like to deal with baby daddy drama and the pain of being abandoned. I know what it is like to deal with racism and being harassed and even beat up because I wouldn’t cater to the whims of idiots.
So no. I cannot and will not presume to understand what it is to be a minority woman who is also facing these challenges. I acknowledge that statistically, being white is supposed to give me certain social mobility and privileges, and maybe if I were in a better location I could take advantage of these statistics more. (I am not ashamed to say that after all I have survived and still not getting me anywhere I would gladly cash in any privilege check if I had the chance.) But I don’t have these magic chips to cash. I am the minority of white people. Because of certain aspects of who I am, such as being a single mother, society has decided I don’t have as many white cards to pay as say a richer, more connected woman that doesn’t have any children. The life I have and have survived to live mirrors closer to the minority women of my location than the other white women.
I relate to these women better because we have more shared experiences. This is the important part. I would love it if we as a society could improve communications between ethnic groups so more people could see a fellow instead of an amicable other. Imagine what could be accomplished if the kid from the trailer park and the kid from the projects realized they understood each other better than they would think. I firmly believe that those that have the oppressive economic and cultural holds on our society want us to keep thinking we are so alien and incomprehensible to each other, that “it’s a black thing, you wouldn’t get it” or “it’s a white problem” is actually true, and that we are incapable of working together to fight back.
I am not a black woman. I am simply an understanding cheerleader who wishes to throw her support and enthusiasm behind positive and progressive minority leadership. But for this to happen more effectively, all I ask is to be seen first as Gabrael.