Wednesday, February 19, 2014

White Privilege in a Half Caste's World

My sister and I walked into a Claire's accessory store in the mall in Flagstaff, Arizona in the mid-1990s.  We were looking at earrings and commenting on ones we liked and didn't like.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a saleslady walking around the store and glancing at my sister and I.  Did she ever ask if we needed help?  No.  Did she tell us about any special offers we might be interested in?  Nope.  She just stared and stalked.  I started getting this creepy, icky feeling and leaned over to my sister asking, "Is she FOLLOWING us?"  My sister nodded.  We walked out of the store and didn't say a word to the lady.  Just walked out.

Many years later I'm standing in line at WalMart in Salt Lake City, Utah with my daughters, the three older ones being teenagers and very observant.  The customer in front of us is greeted by the cashier, she was asked if she found everything she needed, they chit chat, and she's told to "have a nice day".  Now I'm a nice person.  I always smile at people in customer service because I know how it feels to work in that field.  My husband says I come off manly and gruff but really, I'm a pleasant person.  So we get up to the front and I smile at the cashier.  And there's silence.  No greeting.  No small talk.  No "how's your day going".  No "have a nice day".  Not even a "go to hell".  Nothing.  Silence.  Now I used to say thank you even when people didn't say it to me but I'm over that crap so I just left with my stuff.  If they are not going to thank me for my business, I'm certainly not going to thank them for being rude.  My girls noticed what happened and when we were in the car, they asked what that was all about.  Why did the cashier treat the other lady different from me?  I'm not one for confrontations.  In fact, I hate them.  I told my girls I don't waste my time on ignorance.  If the cashier had ill feelings towards me, that's her problem.  She wasn't worth my time or energy.  She doesn't know me and is really missing out, if I can just toot my own horn for a second.  Her loss.  Sticks and stones..., right?

Or is it right?  I was like the lady in the video (linked above) but I didn't have someone coming to my rescue and pointing out the indiscretion.  She even mentioned if SHE was the one who said something and not her sister-in-law, would it be taken in a different manner?  Would she have been looked at as the "angry black woman" versus "the woman who had been wronged by the cashier"?  How do we teach people about privilege and how it affects those of us on the opposing side?  The first semester I taught my Humanities/diversity class at the local community college, I had to teach a lesson on white privilege.  It was the first time I had heard the term and was very interested in the concept, although I had no idea how to teach or approach the subject.  Until I looked into other privileges.  For example male privilege, a female going to get her car repaired and spoken to like she knows nothing about cars.  Or my favorite example, class privilege.  I used the movie "Pretty Woman" as my example and the scene where Julia Roberts is rejected by a Beverly Hills shop because she's in her hooker clothing and then returning to another store with rich guy Richard Gere in tow and being treated with the utmost respect.  Then I understood.  Once again, it falls back to ignorance, blissful as it may seem.  It's like saying, "I grew up with Samoan neighbors."  That's nice.  But did you LEARN anything?  Or, "my best friend is Tongan."  And...  your point is???  Actually, your point is that you THINK you understand, but you really don't so you're compensating by claiming you hang out with people of color and that makes you "in the know".

Will I ever be vocal about white privilege if I'm once again faced with that situation?  Probably not.  But I really liked the video and what it represents.  If only people did the right things to make the world a better place, then we'd have some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Cue "We Are the World" music...

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