There’s a good reason some white girls say stupid things to black girls.

They have no idea it’s wrong.

How can this be?

It’s still possible, in 2012, to grow up in this country and never meet people who look different from you. You can live in an upper class suburb, where there might be a few blacks, some Asians and maybe a few Latinas. But, if they all dress the same as you, wear their hair the same way, speak the same way, do the same things you do, you’re still sheltered in ignorance.

White girls are part of the majority; considering the circumstances of others has never occurred to them because they have no idea there is an ‘other’.

Their ignorance isn’t mean spirited.

Not convinced?

Let me offer a non race-related personal example.

Background: I am/was a race and class conscious black female. One day during sophomore year of college, I was tearing down the hall to a class on a high floor in a building with an elevator. A female student in a wheelchair pulled up. I was looking at the numbers, minding my business. The elevator opened, two people got out, which meant there was enough room for me and someone else standing or the girl in the wheelchair alone. In those few seconds, I was thinking the following 20-year old thoughts:

”If I go first, I’ll be the jerk who cut in front of the handicapped girl in the wheelchair.”

“But I was here first.”

“Am I supposed to say something to her like, ‘It’s ok, you have it harder than I do, or something?’”

“But, come on. She already got to park right next to the building while I was out in the tundra and had to hike all the way here, so why should she get even more preferential treatment?”

“Isn’t there a special elevator for these people anyway?”

“I didn’t even know people in wheelchairs went to college.”

In the end, I chickened out and made like I had forgotten something, turned and left. Then I climbed the stairs, got out on a different floor and took the elevator to class.

Much later, when I realized that I was thinking of the disabled in the same way whites thought about me, I laughed out loud at myself.

Substitute black for person in wheelchair and you see exactly how this stuff happens.

Never in my life had I to consider the situation of those in wheelchairs prior to that moment. I didn’t have anti-wheelchair bound people feelings; I was 20 and annoyed that all of a sudden, I was inconvenienced by this situation. From then on, once I got a grip, I behaved like I had some home training, and when the situation arose, I’d suggested that we could make it if we all squeezed a little tighter.

That experience crystallized the impetus that drives white people to say some of the crazy things they say. It seems to be a combination of curiosity, an eagerness to learn, wanting to be friendly, and to understand, but not quite knowing how and feeling awkward as a result about making a mistake.

The difference between them and me is that I did have the sense to keep my thoughts to myself. I also did not subsequently try to strike up conversations with random wheelchair bound students solely to pump them for elevator etiquette tips. Nor did I corner anybody at the hairdresser, in the grocery store or any of other hundred places I’ve been caught out. When you’ve been through that enough, you know better.  

As far as having friends who say things like that to us as Ms. Ramsey does, we have to make our own decisions: do we take the time to educate them, tell them that there are certain topics we want them to avoid, ignore it, or let the relationship lapse?  

Also, let us remember, these are girls, not women. They have yet to acquire wisdom and knowledge that comes with growing up.  

When I saw the White Girls video, I cracked up. It’s funny. It seemed tailor-made for people like to whom ridiculous comments are made on practically a daily basis. This is a first for us unless I am mistaken. After years of being compared to a summer tan, of being the authority on All Things Black at school and at work and  hearing endless renditions of a perfect stranger’s one black friend back home story on airplanes, I needed that laugh.

Hell, I earned it.

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One response »

  1. Debra,
    I love that I hear your voice when I read anything
    you write. I loved this piece.
    You are so smart and talented.


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