As a person of color in the United States, the issue of white supremacy – and its infiltration in every kind of institution and system – remains quite clear to me. The issues can be complex, certainly, but sometimes, incidents of racism occur and reveal simple and forgotten points about the danger people of color face when in predominantly white environments.
Like this story that happened in my home state of Ohio where an elementary school teacher thought there was nothing wrong with asking one of her two black students to pose as a slave during a mock slave auction and had the white students poke and prod as if buying him, even going as so far as inspecting the inside of his mouth and testing his muscle strength.
This, in my mental filing system, is categorized under Nightmare, The Ultimate.
This treacherous and psychologically twisted act of a youth educator brings back some not so pleasant memories of my own.
While much less damaging or stunning, I can remember handfuls of incidents growing up in predominantly white classrooms and being asked my opinion because I was not white. “So, Lisa, tell us what is it like to be in interracial dating relationships,” my sociology teacher asked, assuming all kinds of notions that if I were in a relationship that it automatically would be someone who was White or someone of a race other than Filipino. And also assuming that my life is open for discussion for the intellectual advancement of others.
It irked me when well-intentioned white friends would complain that the person of color in their class was socially reserved and wouldn’t share his or her experiences from Nicaragua, China, Mexico, or Africa, “I just really want to learn from them. Why are they so quiet?” Mhm, I don’t know. Maybe that person is just like any other person in class — bored to tears perhaps, or an introverted soul, or maybe s/he doesn”t like to talk in class, or maybe s/he doesn’t like you.
Even in professional conferences about dismantling racism in institutions of higher education, even during plenary break out sessions after the speaker just finished a talk about how women of color are often tokenized in mainstream feminist circles and asked to speak simply because of their non-white skin color, someone at my table still asked me, “What’s wrong? Don’t you have anything to say on this matter? You’re not white and haven’t spoken yet. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.”
To which I replied, “I mean, other than the fact that you’re forcing me to speak when the whole presentation was about NOT doing that, I feel fine.” That and I remember thinking, I just don’t feel like talking. It’s early. I need coffee. Nothing fancy.
Consider the possibility that people of color, especially in predominantly white spheres are neither inspired or scared to talk. I can’t speak to the minds of what other people are doing or thinking. I can only speak to my experiences in dealing with people wrapped in the binds of white privilege in education centered environments and how often I was targeted to speak on behalf of my race. Cultural awareness is not putting someone’s culture and race in the spotlight, nor is is about ignoring it in efforts of sameness and equality. It’s somewhere in between.
If you are uncomfortable with white supremacy, or history of slavery, or want to learn or teach about it further, consider this point:
People of color/I do not exist to be subject material for enlightenment. They/I exist because they/we are humans with unique feelings, stories, and ideas. So, if you’re interested to know about the practices, rituals, and beliefs of a specific culture or race, read a book. If you’re interested in a person, form a relationship.
And remember that people of color and our lives are not responsible for white people’s education.