Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Love Letter to Middle Class White Folks

My beloved middle-class* white brothers and sisters,

I’ve been having hard conversations with many of you about race and racism.  It’s been made harder by the fact that we often have a very different understanding of white people and our history and why we all matter to each other.  Explaining what I think I know about race and whiteness in short snippets has hasn’t worked very well so I thought it might be most useful to write a letter.
Before I begin, I want to tell you how important you are to me.  You are good and lovable and I am pleased to be in your ranks. I didn’t always feel this way but that’s a separate letter.  Suffice it to say that I do now. Because you mean so much to me, I want to talk about why I think we are so important and why what we say and do matters in the world. 

Nemo Was a White Kid in the ‘Burbs
A lot of us are very well-meaning white people but our relationship to racism is like a clownfish to an anemone. Anemones are really toxic and dangerous for anyone who isn’t a clownfish but they’re perfectly lovely for clownfish.  Clownfish that grow up in anemones and don’t interact with other types of fish have NO idea that what surrounds them could hurt others.  Just like clownfish, you and I have such a symbiotic relationship with our environment that we often can’t see /feel/hear the thousands of tiny little toxic barbs embedded in our society that hurt and kill people of color.
Other fish can’t come into the anemone but we can bring our resources out into open water.  We may face a little more danger or have to give up a few perks, but if the other fish come into our anemone they will CERTAINLY get hurt. The ecosystem can’t survive with only clownfish and anemones, so telling the other fish to suck it up and keep trying to make it in a deathtrap doesn’t make a lot of sense for any of us. 

Trust Fund Babies
You and I have a really special relationship with the major institutions of our country.  Over 500 years ago, white people started putting laws in place to make sure we (middle-class white people) got and kept resources like land, money, housing and education.  It’s like our ancestors set up a massive trust fund that we’re all still collecting benefits from, whether we know it or not.

Here’s just one example of how the system has worked for my family.

In 1953, my mother’s working class father bought a small parcel of land for $10,000 in an area of North Dallas where cotton fields were turned into suburbs for GIs coming home to start families.  Actually, just white families. There were restrictions put in the deeds of the land explicitly prohibiting people of color from buying in the neighborhood. 

The schools were excellent and the homes appreciated at a very fast rate.   My mother’s family sold the property about ten years later at a profit but if they’d held onto it, today it would be worth 60 times what they paid for it. Now homes in the area are going for over $1 million and the schools are so good that George Bush’s daughters went to my mother’s elementary school.  In contrast, median price houses in places people of color could have lived such as South Dallas, West Dallas, East Oak Cliff and South Oak Cliff are currently going for $30,000 to $80,000. 
The sale of another parcel of similarly segregated (and appreciated) land paid for my father to go to a top private law school.  It also provided a down payment on a fixer-upper my parents bought in a poor neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The bank gave my parents a mortgage even though my father didn’t have an income and my mother was making about $7,000 a year.  While they did much of the work on the home themselves, the capital for the down payment and renovations came from the earlier real estate gains (white bonus) of our ancestors.  My parents sold the DC house for two and a half times what they bought it for and continued this pattern of buying property in areas that appreciated. My parents and their spouses now own 5 houses, including the one I live in now (and pay WAY below market rate rent for).   

That initial advantage from the whites-only law allowed my family to continue to buy into the “best” neighborhoods which consequently appreciated the fastest. Those neighborhoods had the best public schools which set us up to have a better shot at getting into top college and graduate schools. The profits from this pattern paid for our educations at top private institutions (and the social/professional connections that go with them). 
Sure, my family members and I have worked hard.  But we also got a ton of invisible advantages along the way- advantages that my friends of color and their families didn’t have equal access to. I grew up thinking racial disparities were the result of individual failings of huge masses of people of color instead of institutionalized racism.  It wasn’t any one person’s fault that I never knew the truth until adulthood.  We teach what we were taught. 

I Love a Parade!
About the time we started to walk, well-meaning adults began littering our path with big, stinky, nasty piles of crap. Through their actions, laws, words, and media, adults gave us messages about who to trust, who to fear and how to become a “success. Most of the time it was like walking behind a horse in a parade that’s just clopping along, dropping steaming, stinky piles of crap without even appearing to realize it.  We were boxed in with everyone else along the parade route, so we just had to step right in it and keep on moving.  What’s more, because all the white folks we know are smeared with this crap/racism, we’ve just gotten used to it.  Most of us don’t even notice anymore. 
Here’s what the crap I stepped in looked like.   

(Disclaimer: descriptions of racist thoughts/actions)
1. Until I was an adult, the only non-white adults I ever had connections with worked for our family as a nanny, gardener, handyman, etc.

Both my parents grew up in middle-class, white families in racially-segregated Texas. They grew up without social connections to people of color and repeated the same pattern with me.  As an adult, I often feel awkward and unsure of myself around peers who are people of color, including friends we consider to be family. It’s incredibly frustrating to try to learn these basic interpersonal skills as an adult and say/do dumb things to people I love deeply as I’m learning.

2. When I was in second grade, a bunch of kids started calling a kid with one black and one white parent, “Oreo”.  

I thought the other kids were really clever and I started saying it too. Adults heard us call him that name, but they never told us it was hurtful or to stop.  I wish a responsible adult had told me to knock it off the first time but this type of teasing was allowed.  I’d like to think the adults didn’t know what we meant, but I find that hard to believe.   I still find “OREO!” popping into my head occasionally when I learn someone has mixed black/white heritage.  It’s really irritating.

3. When I was 15 and learning to drive, a well-meaning relative told me to watch out for Asian drivers and then launched into a very complicated and illogical theory about eye shape and peripheral vision to back up their statement.

Now every time I see someone Asian do something stupid while they’re driving, I have to fight the voice in my brain that says my relative was right.

4. My first boss directly ordered me to monitor African American customers in our store as a way to reduce shoplifting.

I got my first job working at a clothing boutique.  The owner left me alone in the store on my second day with very little instruction.  After about a week, she came to me VERY angry because clothes were missing and demanded that I stop people from shoplifting.  (It’s telling that she never assumed I may have stolen them.)  She told me further losses would come out of my $10/hour salary.  When I asked her what to do, her only advice was, “Watch out for black people. They’re always stealing things”.  Desperate, I ended up watching black customers so aggressively that one day a woman whipped around and cursed me out for being racist.  And she was totally right.

I could go on, but you get the point.

I’m really clear on one this point: these adults weren’t bad people. They all thought they were being helpful by giving me the (often misguided and/or incorrect) information and advice THEY got as they grew up (mostly from people who grew up under segregation). 

Living Under Lock and Key

About 50 years ago, people of color (and a few white people) put so much pressure on folks in power that a few cogs in the machinery got taken out (Voter Rights Act and the end of legal segregation).  White people who saw this change thought racism was over because things looked cleaner, but pulling a few parts did not shut down the well-oiled machine that had been running for over 500 years.  The infrastructure set up to benefit us is still alive and well but so deeply embedded in the fabric of this country that it’s nearly impossible for most of us see that we’re still swimming in it.  We are like fish that can’t even tell we are wet.

This is probably why the term “white privilege” angers and irritates so many of us.  We can’t see how we are getting any privilege when it feels like we are just busting our asses each day to make a good life for ourselves. White privilege is really hard to see and can be hard to own, because we didn’t ask for it.  But we have it and it’s real.

This is how I have come to make sense of it:

Our son goes to a preschool with an electronic gate.  Each family is given a little key fob which is held up to a magnetic panel to unlock the door. White privilege works a lot like this.  Imagine our institutions were designed with special magnetic key pads.  White people, particularly white people with money, are born with the little key embedded in our skin.  We walk up to doors (apply for a job, try to buy a house, interact with a police officer) and they open without us having to do anything.

Most of us have no idea we have this special key. More importantly, if we are only around other white people, we never even notice that the doors don’t open as easily for some people.  Or, we may know a handful of people of color that have done that magic combination of things that earns them their own key so it appears as if there are equal opportunities to get through the door, but there aren’t.

Often we get really, really angry when we learn about this system. Some of us think that anyone who didn’t get in right away must have done something wrong.  Some of us don’t want to go through the door if our friends of color can’t enter.   Some of us are pissed when we learn that we didn’t have to do anything special for the door to open.  Working really hard or being really smart may help us go further once we walk in, but the door opening automatically? That was the magnetic key.

I don’t think white people need to feel guilty but I do want us to feel a sense of stewardship for this unearned gift.  Part of that stewardship includes talking about the ways we benefit and identifying places where we can use that privilege to create change. 
Which brings me back to the crap…
Clean Up on Aisle “White”
If you’re like me, you’d want someone to tell you that you have spinach in your teeth or toilet paper on your shoe.   So here goes. That crap we stepped in as kids?  It’s still on us and we’ve been tracking it ALL over the place.   We tend to fall into one of the following groups:

We think the crap is not our problem.  We are convinced that racism was fixed in the 1960’s and if people of color are still struggling, it’s their own fault.  We often say that people who talk about race are racist or complainers who need to grow a pair and MOVE ON.
We want the smell to go away so badly, we imagine the crap magically disappeared. We may say things like, “I’m colorblind” or “I simply don’t see race”.  Unfortunately, ignoring the continued impact of racism on people of color won’t make it go away. Sadly, it won’t clean us up either.
We are dumping gallons of perfume on ourselves to disguise the smell.  We might be focusing a LOT on helping people of color and still have a really hard time being close with white people (I did for a LONG time).  We tend to be overwhelmed by our own sense of guilt and often think we’re better than other white people who show their racism more.   We still say and do racist things all the time-our racism is just a little harder for other white people to see.
We are smearing the crap on everyone else. We don’t want to be alone with our funk.  We tend to say and do overtly racist things.  That, obviously, just sucks for everyone, although I have to say I don’t think this group is better or worse than any of the others. This group just shows the racism more.

We smelled something foul and decided to start the clean up.  We know we didn’t intentionally step in crap, but we are committed to stop spreading it around by working to get ourselves and other white people cleaned up.  It’s not always pretty but it doesn’t have to be gruesome.  
A.F.G.O. Is Not a Four Letter Word
When I realize I have just unknowingly said or done something racist to a person of color, I don’t get paralyzed with guilt. I know the situation is not hopeless just because I had a racist thought. It’s simply another reminder that negative messages about people of color are in my brain without my consent. What I *can* do is identify these thoughts and not act on them.

My experience is that racist thoughts are running through the brains of white people all the time without us even realizing it.  One morning as I drove to work, I saw an African American man stop on his bicycle and pour something into an opaque container. My first thought was “he’s pouring alcohol into a different container so he can hide it.” Mind you, it was 7:45 in the morning.

I was shocked when I realized he was pouring a fancy coffee drink into a tumbler, not alcohol.  I would NEVER have had the same thought about a white middle-class looking guy on a bike. The only reason I even noticed I had the thought was because reality contradicted my assumption.  I’m pretty sure I’m making assumptions like this multiple times a day without even noticing. Like this
I’ll Tell You What I Want (What I Really, Really Want)
My response wasn’t guilt.  It was more like:  “Huh.  Look at that.  There’s another one of those annoying thoughts.  AFGO! (Another Freaking Growth Opportunity).  I will try to remember this as I’m interacting with people of color today so I can try not to be an accidental jerk.”

I don’t want us to walk around on eggshells, hyper vigilant about saying or doing the wrong thing all the time.  I want us try to assess whether our judgments about people of color are true or just the tickertape of crap-filled movies and jokes and “advice” we all have.

I want us to stop going silent about racism and start talking to each other about the crap.  I want us to practice seeing racism and use that information to be less jerky.  I want us to remember the special key and be mindful about what we do when the doors open.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t go through those doors. We just need to pay attention to how we make use of our easy access (like this).

It was scary for me to start noticing how many racist things are said and done to people of color.  It was disorienting and uncomfortable to consider most of what I learned about race and my role as a white person is an illusion. It’s awkward to notice the unearned benefits and try to figure out what to do with them.  But there is a cost to white people not actively taking on racism as our issue.  

Most middle class white folks want strong communities, a strong public education system and a strong economy. We will never get those things while the old system is still running. Study after study shows that crime, poor performing schools, overcrowded prisons, a lack of qualified workers and so many other challenges in our society are driven by the institutional and individual effects of racism.  If you think ending racism is just an issue for bleeding-heart pinko liberals, think about what kind of community you want for yourself and your children.
People of color are not inherently more criminal or less intelligent or less healthy than white people.  People of color are not the problem. Five hundred years of systematically denying non-whites equal access to resources (education, jobs, loans, good places to live, and healthcare) is the problem.  If we want society to be more stable, we need to take things back to the studs.  We need to peel away layer after layer of denial and replace laws, policies and attitudes with something new.  Until we do that, I think the world we want for our children and their children will not be possible.

I want middle class white people to take on ending racism as OUR issue. By not understanding the history, by not recognizing our privilege, and by not challenging white people and systems to do better, we hold this whole thing in place.

I realize this call to action may fall on a lot of deaf ears.  You probably have a laundry list of things that feel more relevant and important. The best thing I can offer in such a case is a request from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I want middle class white people to talk about this stuff, with kindness and passion and honesty and love. I want us to commit to making greater persons of each other.  Maybe this wasn’t the most romantic love letter you’ve ever read, but I want to make a greater nation with you.

If you’re feeling defensive or angry or overjoyed or like I’m a total moron, I’d love to hear why so we can have a dialogue.  If you’re feeling numb or don’t think this issue is relevant to you, I’d love to hear about that too.  Comment, email me, or talk to another white person if you don’t feel comfortable doing it with me.  Please just start talking about racism with other white people.  It’s the only way it is ever going to end.

With all my love,

Jaime Jenett
Where to learn more:


*I’m not ignoring poor and working class white folks. I am intentionally talking to middle-class (and owning class) white folks because I was raised with those particular sets of patterns and can speak out of that experience.


Anonymous said...

I love this. LOVE THIS. All I can think of right now to say is AMEN SISTER!!!!
I'm with you. Let's do this. Love, MichelleG

winter miller said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Anonymous said...

You are part of the PRIVILEGED class. Don't paint me with your racism. I don't own 5 houses or send my kids to a private school with an electronic gate.

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...


I'm not sure I understand your logic. How does your class status exempt you from getting covered in crap like the rest of us? Also, I'd love to hear more about how I'm painting other white folks with "my" racism. What would you have to lose/give up to consider, even for a moment, that any scrap of what I said is true?

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This makes it so much easier to apply the white privilege label to myself without the guilt so I can focus on how to move forward and do something about it.

Unknown said...

It's a very well-written letter. I am Filipino who was born and raised in a privileged environment in Manila. We had maids, cooks, drivers. My brother and I went to private universities. We emigrated to the US 32 years ago. My paternal grandparents came to the US in the 1920s. I had absolutely no sense of inferiority and was never intimidated by any group of a "different" color. Let me tell you of an example of how insidious bigotry is in our great country of the USA. I am married to a "white" man of Italian ancestry. When we got engaged many moons ago, a white colleague of mine, another Critical Care RN like myself, had this question for me: " Does his family have problems about him marrying out of his race"? I was totally taken aback by the question. Can you figure out why? I'll tell you the reason, if you still can't come up with it. Here goes: I was thinking to myself: Why doesn't she ask me if MY FAMILY HAS ANY PROBLEMS WITH ME MARRYING OUT OF MY RACE? Did she think that the 'WHITE RACE" was superior to my ASIAN RACE, and that only the WHITE RACE would have the right to feel that there would be a "problem'? You tell me.

Anonymous said...

I want to root for what you're saying but it does make me angry. I agree with you that is better to know about one's white privilege rather than live in the dark.

The blonde woman stealing the bike in the video you linked to gets less guff because she is a hot, white, blonde woman. I'm sure a fat woman over age 40 would not get as many offers for help.

Here's where I get stuck on your argument: You are more privileged than many white folks and you mistakenly assume that your class status and privilege applies to all "middle class" white people. Except, you are clearly upper middle class, or even a member of the wealthy class.

I could be wrong, but to me it feels like you feel guilty about your unearned class privileges and so you try to paint it in racial terms so that you can share this guilt with all the white people out there, rather than just accept that you didn't earn everything you have.

And you're right, you got to inherit all that privilege in a way that a black person could not. But the black child of married lawyers has more chance of succeeding than the white child from a poor and broken home.

By saying that white people who are struggling should also be mindful of their own racism and privilege, or should give something up or self-flagellate, diminishes their struggles. You have no idea what you're talking about.

Struggling is struggling.

I'm glad you're working on your racism. Honestly, I don't assume that a black guy pouring a drink is trying to hide alcohol. Good for you for the self-flogging and attempts to correct.

I appreciate the dialogue. I know I sound harsh but you might find it hard to reach people with the self-righteousness that is easy for you to say, coming from a place of privilege.

CJ75 said...

...Yes! Thank you!! This is truth. Every. Word.

CJ75 said...

This is amazing. Thank you for this.

CJ75 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kamikazicook said...

Jaime, you have written what I wish I had taken the time to write, and brilliantly illustrated it. Great effing examples. Thank you! Now, you've started the conversation—ho do we continue it? Is awareness the goal, or are we ready to move beyond that, and if so, to what? I always feel stuck between my awareness and my ability to do something active to change things. I feel hurt for my black friends, worried for them, wishing hugging them or smuggling them through life like I were their bodyguard would keep them from getting hurt emotionally or physically.

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...

Anonymous (September 5, 2013 at 5:08 PM),

Thanks for taking the time to respond. The class stuff is tricky for sure- I've been confused about what class I am for most of my life. I usually go with the class I grew up with (a very widely defined middle class) as my identifier b/c it shaped the way I see the world the most but my mother's father was working class, my mother grew up middle class, I grew up middle/upper middle class but with a lot of owning class kids. Now my wife and I live on my middle class salary in one of the most expensive parts of the U.S. b/c she’s home taking care of our medically fragile kid. We'd be bankrupt without the support of our parents. Not sure how to make sense of all of it, but there it is.

I absolutely agree that poor/working class white folks have a different experience with white privilege, which is why I explicitly addressed middle class folks. I will say that my wife, who grew up working class, has the same analysis I do.

When it comes to racism, however, I don’t think any white person, regardless of class, can escape the racist messages and structure in our society. The way it plays out for us can look different regardless of class, but I still maintain that poor/working class white folks have the “crap” too.
The only thing I’m asking folks to give up is the notion that they couldn’t possibly be racist or that they couldn’t possibly benefit in some way from the way things are set up in the U.S. This is an honest question, asked without a snarky or confrontational tone (hard to convey over email), “What would you stand to lose to consider that I might be even a little bit right?”

I don’t feel guilty and was explicit about that point throughout. Owning privilege doesn’t mean self-flagellating or that one has to feel guilty about it. To me it just means seeing something from a different perspective.

Class is a critical issue in this discussion but I consistently see white folks use class as a means to derail the conversation about racism. That said, I will respond to this comment, “But the black child of married lawyers has more chance of succeeding than the white child from a poor and broken home”.

I agree with you for that individual case. Looking at the bigger picture, though I have two points. First, a black child is much less likely to have parents who are lawyers b/c of so many of the systemic barriers that keep people of color from getting professional degrees (tons of stats that show the disparity). Secondly, a white child from a poor background that makes it to college will likely be told “they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” while a child of color is seen as/told they got special treatment or benefiting from affirmative action, not that they worked hard to get there.

kai mayberger said...

Beautifully written. I come from a financially poor upbringing. My parents went to college but intentionally made little money so as not to support the Vietnam war through taxes. Though my spelling is horrid, I speak English very well. I grew up in a very economically diverse area and every one seemed to have more then me (colored TVs, snow mobiles, cars that ran). My parents were extremely anti raciest-to the point of adopting an African American girl to be my sister (whole different can of raciest worms). I also have two step siblings who are African American. (I am the only white kid in the bunch) Things are easier for me- I have the Fob imbedded in me this I know. Language is another huge factor in privilege and it frustrates me to no end that the public school system does not help children with it. It is often the difference between working and middle class, and tends to be part of the wall to people of color.-Kai Mayberger Hopefully this doesn't post as my wife, I'm on her computer.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jaime! Here's a quick love note back from a fellow raised-middle (among other things)-classer. I really appreciate you taking the time to write and share this.

Such clarity! And such helpful analogies and metaphors. My daily work in a majority white suburban school district in California offers regular chances to explain lots of the pieces of this and I am so pleased to have new images for my toolbox.

Onward, with love.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I'm one of the original anonymouses, the one who wanted to root but felt angry.

Thank you for your response.

I'm going to deeply consider this:

“What would you stand to lose to consider that I might be even a little bit right?”

The answer is that I think you are right. I (crazily uniquely) was an underprivileged white person surrounded by black people who had the upper hand over me. I guess I feel like my unique experience should count for something -- I watched black students who came from nice, split-level middle class homes get minority scholarships while my trailer park white self didn't qualify.

Another time, I saw a middle aged man from Hawaii, of Japanese descent, get favorable treatment from a government contract because of his minority status. And yet, he had $20 million in a trust fund for his children!

ALL THAT SAID: I know that as a white woman, I can go up to a little kid and say hi and the mom will smile at me. (Not true for most men, even if they truly love children.)

If I am lost, it is easy for me to ask for help.

I don't have to worry about being well dressed and I don't have to smile at strangers to prove that I am not a threat.

When I see a police officer, I smile and wave. I don't try to "act unsuspicious."

Anyway, I think the source of my anger is that we all have our struggles and it's hard to be called privileged when I truly don't feel class privileged. I get it that my white skin helps me in some ways, but I still had to work my way up and out, ya know?

You are just highlighting one that is important to you, the blindness that all black people face. And I get that it's not your job to make sure you speak up for every struggle ever faced. You picked this one.

In some regions of the country, such as Atlanta, you do have a strong black middle and upper class. I think this is why this isn't my "issue." Or rather, I'm aware of my white privilege, I try to do good, I don't feel guilty.

I think I need to go advocate for the issue -- or struggle -- that I really care about. Which is being born poor, no matter your class, and coming from a family of origin of drug use and disorder and no safety net in life.

That affects all the races. I know it affects blacks disproportionately, but there's no set-asides for disadvantaged white people. Whereas, minorities do have special programs set aside for them and they have advocates merely because of race.

I'm rambling. I think you're doing more of a service than disservice.

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...

Dear Anonymous (September 6, 2013 at 2:28 PM),

Thank you so much for your willingness to stay in the conversation and be so honest.

This part, "I guess I feel like my unique experience should count for something" is SO real and so important to get clear about. Of course you're angry and frustrated! It's really helpful for me, in this conversation at the very least, to understand where you're coming from.

I really, really love your articulation about me picking this one thing to focus on and you finding your passion when you say "I think I need to go advocate for the issue -- or struggle -- that I really care about. Which is being born poor, no matter your class, and coming from a family of origin of drug use and disorder and no safety net in life".

YES! Absolutely. I am focusing on racism in this particular post but I couldn't agree with you more about the bigger issue of a safety net so NO ONE falls through. This is part of why I've chosen a career in public health and work for a public health department.

So glad to be in this with you. Thanks for having the courage to put yourself and your stuff out there. I think it's what we all need to do- just lay it all out with each other.

In solidarity,


Jen said...

I love this. And I love the comments, which really, WHEN does THAT happen??

PaulK said...

Dear Jaime,
I love this, and I love the way that you seem to always be working to make the world a more peaceful place. I really respect your thoughts, and I like the way that they go along with some of the things that Laura has written. I think that this is how things change, one small way at a time.
I started to read some of the comments, and then ran out of time and got a little frustrated with some of them. You have more patience than I do, so I'm writing this without the "benefit" of having listened to the dialog that has been going on so far. (So sue me--I'm a grown-up--I can do what I want.)
I really liked your analogy about Nemo and the anemone. I'd never thought about it that way, and I think you're right.
I also think that the key to a lot of things is education, and kindness--on both sides.
I think we all are guilty of racism, or if you want to take it a step further, judging each other wrongly, or too harshly. I do it with people who are too pretty, too fat, too ugly, whatever.
It is a lifelong process, I think, to do what you said, and be MINDFUL. To stop a thought as it occurs and replace it with a more worthy one. To see someone as God sees them, to look at a person and remember that that person is beloved to someone, he/she has a mother who loves them, or a brother who prays for them, or a lover who can't live without them, or a child who thinks they hung the moon.
I'm following the blog of a mother who was burns over 80% of her body and not only lived to tell about it, but testifies of love and motherhood and life. She is beautiful!
She inspires people every day with her courage and compassion, and yet faces her own kind of discrimination and always will because of the scars she carries.
I think it is a class issue, and a race issue, and a human issue. We need to look at each other with love. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and listen, and try to understand, and live the golden rule, which isn't do unto others what you think is in their best interest. Truly it's to do what you would like them to do to you, understand your needs and wants and then do their best.
We can be neighbors and friends and pull each other up. People are doing it every day in small quiet ways.
I hope you'll keep writing. You're changing the world one word at a time.

Anonymous said...

I was awakened to institutionalized racism when my parents moved and I had to attend an inner city rough mixed race high school. I couldn't believe the sloppy dumbed down curriculum . Nor did I believe that all those people were born that slow. I realized that it was the system. It infuriated me then and it infuriates me now. Living near and in the hood my ideas of what may be helpful may be different from you. A black person asked me if we were going to raise my Grandson Black and I informed her "No, I am not buying him a pair of crutches or a wheelchair." While I know that all we have is a gift from God, and we certainly don't start out on a level playing field, there comes a time for personal accountability. I think some of the progressives actually keep people down. I resent insinuations that conservatives are racists.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this. I have been looking at myself more lately - it is hard to admit you still have subtle thoughts that you don't want to have. I have lots of thoughts but I don't have them all written out. This keeps coming up for me so it would be good for me to take the time to do that.

Here are a few- not in any order:

I am pretty sure my ancestors were NOT slave owners - they came from England and Germany and lived in northern states as far as I know. Yet I still feel white guilt about slavery. I feel shame that slavery happened and almost like I need to apologize to African Americans for it.

I am happy to live in a racially diverse area and neighborhood in Maryland. We have great neighbors of all colors and I like them and get along with all of them. I like to think I just see them as individuals when we talk and don't even think about skin color and now that we know each other I think that is true. I would be lying to myself if I said I never even noticed when we met for the very first time. I want to get to that point. I want to just see a person and not have any level of my consciousness register skin color even when we meet or intact for the first time.

I lived in New Orleans for 4 years as a child (4th to 7th grades). I remember hearing about the high school cafeteria breaking out into all whites on one side and blacks on the other and tables getting knocked over. I remember a girl of color on the playground saying, "it's ok, she's cool" and stopping her African American friends from picking on me.

The above are some examples of how I learned some fear as a child. I didn't think it was still there but when I dug deep the other day I found it.
There was a group of teens of color gathering in my cul-de-sac just hanging around a car and laughing and dancing to some song. I found myself feeling a little fear and concern. I asked myself if I would have the same emotions if they were all white teens and knew the true answer was no. It was not comfortable for me to see what was under the surface. I still have a long way to go in first seeing subtle subconscious thoughts and fears and judgements and then holding them up in the light and challenging them.

I applaud you for helping foster this kind of introspection and dialogue. Thank you Jamie for being bold and putting this out there.

Anonymous said...

Disjointed thoughts.
My mom, from Iowa, was more racially prejudiced than my dad who was from Arkansas. When he wanted to invite a work friend and his wife to our home for supper, mom's first words were "What will the neighbors think?" (1958) The man and his wife went on to be one of my mother's favorite and supportive family when my dad died. (1980)

One Sunday I walked (unknowingly) into a small, all-black church where I remained for over a year and would still be a member if they had not moved to a different area of town. (2009) I'd never been accepted in any church like I was there. I'd like to think we shared experiences of "incidents" on a deeply personal and equal level. Often referred to myself as their "token white." No one ever mentioned if that was offensive to them, but I'm still in touch with several of my friends there.

Yesterday in the grocery store 3 young black women were allowing their two, barely-out-of-diapers toddlers, to scream, run the aisles, pull items off shelves and aggressively run up to people and punch at them. I can't imagine what they are being taught at home. Avoidance may not be the best policy in such cases, but I am not a confrontational person. (2013)

Two years ago in the same grocery store I complimented a young black father because his 3 children, near-or-teen-age, lagged somewhat behind him, were well-mannered, stepping back, even saying "excuse me" as I passed them. (2011) I hope they heard my comment as I meant it to be: positive reinforcement and recognition for his having raised children with a sense of personal responsibility. How different these several children will grow up to be.

Last thought, manners (good and bad) and other human interactions are not racially or socially isolated.

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...


You say, "how do we continue it? Is awareness the goal, or are we ready to move beyond that, and if so, to what?" I definitely don't have all the answers but I think the biggest thing for me is to focus on white people instead of people of color. I try to a) be aware but b) change my behavior based on what I become aware of. Sometimes it's stepping back and not taking up so much room in a meeting, sometimes it's noticing AND interrupting someone else's racism, sometimes it's taking action to support ending a policy that is discriminatory.

What I have learned from some of the people of color in my life is that they don't want us trying to protect them or comfort them as much as they want us to clean this shit up. That's the best way we can be allies. I think seeking out other white people to work on this stuff is what needs to happen (despite the feeling that so many of us have that a bunch of white people together talking about racism is dangerous).

Anonymous said...

I truly believe the issue is not about racism or classism or sexism or any other "ism". It's about our western social experience in which attributes not held by the powerful are denigrated as a way for those in power to feel good and to justify their power. Those in power are often able to spread their reflections as the "one true faith" (as it were) so deeply that even those who would benefit from questioning it, do not.

As an example: I appear to be a white middle to upper class woman of privilege. Yet, when I attempted to change my career at the age of 43, I was repeatedly told that I was "too old". Doors were firmly shut in my face because of my age. I was told that it did not matter that I was well qualified to make a career change or that I would bring greatly need skills to the company. I was "simply" too old for a woman to make a career change. Who told me this, over and over? OTHER WOMEN my age or older. Women who have swallowed the bait that older women=bad, hook, line and sinker. The younger women (and men) have the privilege you are ascribing to race.

Another example: In the 1980s, family friends attempted to buy a house in a town in WI that has been largely inhabited by the children of Norwegian immigrants. They were refused by banks and realtors because they were not Norwegian-Americans. The woman was Swedish-American and the man was Danish-American. Not gonna happen.

In human society, there are narrow parameters for what is touted and race is only ONE attribute, amongst many, that is used to keep people "out" of the gates of power, money, opportunities.

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...


Sorry for the long delay. Thanks for sharing your story. You ask such a good question!

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...


Thanks for sharing your story. I bet you had a really different perspective on race/racism than your peers (which I imagine might have been good AND hard). Thanks for commenting!

Jeri said...

I'm just coming back to tell you that this really made me think. I don't deal with this at all, so I really rarely think about it.
This video popped up on Facebook and it also was though-provoking for me, even though it was a bit silly.

snmariner said...

Thank you

Clover said...
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Love Letters said...
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Unknown said...

It was a nice and refreshing feeling after I read your article. Thank you for sharing this to us. Keep posting. Im looking forward for more update. Thank you so much.


Anonymous said...

I'm very aware of my white privilege, and even more so of my white-American privilege, having traveled abroad a fair amount and worked with many internationals here. I am given so much respect and good treatment just for my appearance and my nationality -- and the scary thing is how tempting it is to just accept that, just think, oh, well I must deserve it because after all I am quite charming and my English is almost perfect. :/

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...

Comment from 9/11/13 (re-posted as Anonymous)

Hi Jaime,
I know you. Not super well nor super close, but I have interacted with you in real time and mostly on Facebook. When I first started interacted with you, I thought you were an ally. I thought you were about anti -racism. I found that supportive and refreshing. But then something changed. I began to feel something happened between us but instead if you articulating whatever that could have been, you did the typical "White" thing which was to silence, distance, ignore, pretend whatever communication I may have extended to you did not exist. And really considering that we do not interface in any deep way, I could hardly attribute it to anything that really happened between you and Me. I am sure it was likely something somebody else said and because I was Black, you believed it. This is so typical. It may seem petty or small to you, but this is the kind of hurtful way that White folx dismiss Blacks all of the time. It is a way to communicate how little you value us over your own . So honestly, I am surprised to read your post here or actually it was a repost I read. Yet at the same time not surprised. I don't doubt that in theory you are an ally, pro-anti-racism and such, but in in your day to day I personally have not experienced that to be so. I have found the way you have responded to me and treated me as a Black person very "White" and dismissive. I am not sure you practice what you preach, and I think your public position on race related issues comes from a very privileged place. Why don't you try simply treating the Black people in your day to day dealings with the same dignity, compassion, respect and the same equity that you extend to your White counterparts before you post anymore public statements about race related issues.

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...

My response to Anonymous from 9/11/13

I'm looking forward to talking to you more offline about what happened that left you feeling like I was being dismissive and disrespectful. I really enjoyed our acquaintanceship through swing dancing 10+ years ago and our brief email exchanges in the last few years, so I am eager to get more info about what you saw/felt that didn't jive with that.

I'm sure my privilege is showing ALL over the place, in ways I can't even tell. I considered that a lot when I thought about even putting my thoughts out on this issue in a concrete form- like is this just another white person taking up space. Then I realized that I needed to write this because I needed a tool to use in my conversations with other white people about racism, to articulate most of what I think in one place.

I figured that the beauty of the internet is people have total freedom to avoid what I'm saying (I'm not taking up space in a meeting, etc) AND have the opportunity to engage and have dialogue if they disagree.

I look forward to talking to you and getting more specific information about what was so upsetting. Hoping it was a miscommunication but also ready to own it if I was a total jackhole.

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...

Orig posted 10/1/13:

Had a really hard and messy and deep conversation with Anonymous after her comment on 9/11/13. (She's been invited to comment on whatever she would like to here re: our exchange, btw).

Most of the issue was a miscommunication (emails sent to me that never got to me so it looked like I was just ignoring). But some of it was deeper than that. As we went back and forth re: whether my not paying attention to her was because of racism, I said, "It sounds like what you want is for me to not call myself an ally until I get it all right 100% of the time which I'm not willing to do".

After thinking a lot and reading a few pieces that came out recently about allies, including this one, , I realized what an ignorant and privileged statement that was. "Ally"is not a label I can give myself. That said, I don't really like the term "ally" anyway. The label of "ally" implies something fixed and that people either ARE or ARE NOT an ally. People screw up and may not currently be in solidarity, but it doesn't mean they won't clean it up in the future and that they can't skate by with bad behavior just b/c they did a good "ally" thing in the past.

The Black Girl Dangerous article suggests replacing the terminology "ally" with “Currently operating in solidarity with”. I love this b/c it indicates action. I may not agree with Shdiva's interpretation of my actions as being rooted in racism (possible but not totally obvious to me) but I can try to look at my actions through the lens of "am I in solidarity" with her/people of color.

alligator said...
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Unknown said...

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Anonymous said...

This is a great article. I like a lot of the analogies that you've used here.

You and I belong to the same generation. However, one of the things that separates me from my parents is my early and frequent exposure to children and adults of multiple races and ethnicities. I'm sorry this was denied to you, because over the years my eyes have been opened to how critical it was for me as a white person to attend school and be taught by persons of color. From a very early age I was uncomfortable with overt expressions of racism, and although I definitely absorbed racism I was already well ahead in my journey simply by virtue of having meaningful relationships with acquaintances and authority figures of various races and ethnicities from an early age.

Another difference is that I am white person of many ethnic backgrounds, resulting in my being "read" as being of Hispanic ethnicity (though I have zero Hispanic heritage). Casual acquaintances and strangers alike have made this assumption (e.g., it's not uncommon for strangers to greet my in Spanish). One time an employer checked the "Hispanic/Latino" box on my behalf. Therefore I have gotten a taste of what it is like to wonder whether I am being treated in a particular way based on my physical characteristics and perceived ethnicity rather than by my actions or words themselves. I have come to see these experiences as gifts.

My point is that the single biggest thing you can do in the long haul is to let your child have a taste of diversity and, to a limited extent, ADversity. May I suggest that you consider class in your efforts. You'd probably be uncomfortable departing the school with the fancy electronic gates, or going to a park in the less affluent side of town, etc. This means that you need to be doing these things.

Thanks again for your lovely piece, and good luck.

The Fitch-Jenett Family said...

Anonymous November 26, 2014 at 8:31 AM ,

Thanks for your comments. I appreciated your advice at the end.

We have been intentional about living in a very diverse city (Oakland) and building a tight network of "framily" with people that are different from us, in lots of ways, including race, religion and class (mostly in terms of class they were raised, truthfully, as the majority of friends are now living middle class lives).

The preschool experience was interesting b/c we had not planned to do a fancy preschool at all. It turned out to be the only place that was equipped to handle our son's myriad special needs (health/developmental challenges)and we were there on scholarship.

Our son has now been in 5 different Oakland public schools that have ranged from some of the highest performing to lowest performing. It's been painful and educational to be reminded so clearly how early segregation and inequity starts, even in Kindergarden, based on nothing other than where kids happen to grow up.

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stewart said...

I've always said until more Whites speak out and speak up, then the rest of society won't think there's a problem. Let's be honest, society will never be perfect, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for a world where more people feel like they matter.

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