This is for every pronoun you ever changed in your poetry
hers slipping into hims just so they wouldn’t knit their eyebrows
into the fabric of your shame, you hid
in the closet of your rib cage and taught your heart
how silence was pronounced by the way
you wore a scarf around her name.
I was doing an interview once, and this guy goes, “So you must be pretty psyched about all this ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ stuff?”
And I was like, “Um, yeah, I am.” I have no idea why though. I had nothing to do with that movie. It’s just some people that kind of look like me are in this movie that everyone loves, and winning Oscars and stuff.
And then I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Are white people just psyched all the time?” It’s, like, “‘Back to the Future’! That’s us! ‘Godfather’! That’s us! ‘Godfather Part II’! That’s us! ‘Departed’! That’s us! ‘Sunset Boulevard’! That’s us! ‘Citizen Kane’! That’s us! ‘Jaws’! That’s us! Every fucking movie but ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Boyz n the Hood’ is us! We are white people! Suck our dicks!”
The examples below are only illustrations of some of the ways people still benefit from racism:
- Your name. If it sounds Irish, Polish, French, Spanish, Belgian, Norwegian — no problem. Our names, if they sound “black”, are often reasons to toss our resumes without even calling us. If we resort to our initials, or names that do not “sound black”, then you can see the surprise on the interviewer’s face when they encounter a non-white face. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t pick your name, your parents picked it. It doesn’t matter that you don’t think it’s fair (and it’s NOT) that a Rebecca will get looked at before a Tamika; a Bobby before a Kwesi. You’re still benefitting from racism just by not being a person who can be identified as not-white by the name on your resume.
- Your pay. PoC, on average, get paid less to do the same job as anyone white (or white passing)
- The jobs themselves: Carnival’s failboat is a prime example. White-looking people get the good, customer interacting jobs, the ones that pay the most. PoC get the jobs that involve bussing tables, cleaning toilets, garbage, etc, and have to hope their meager pay is supported by generous tips. But any hotel or office building can shows the same breakdown.
- Your fashions: Your hair, whether it is curly, fine, thin, short, or long, is still considered appropriate for work. It’s getting to the point where even anime colours are not looked askance at anymore. Our hair, when not abused with chemicals and heat, is usually considered “political” if we wear it in a natural style. Or “unprofessional”. There are no less than 3 men on the supervisory and management teams at my job who cut off their locks because they knew that they would never progress with their ambitions unless they conformed to Corporate’s euro-style. That’s having to give up something with a cultural meaning to them in order to have a job they want and can do. I can’t count the number of women who, rather than go natural, have chosen to wear wigs to work, because either option is cheaper and less painful than bi-weekly trips to a hairdresser to chemically treat or heat treat their hair to make it look more like European hair.
- Shopping: If your skin is light enough, you can walk into a store and be treated like a customer. When the clerk, salesgirl, or whomever greets you with a smile and a “can I help you?” they mean it. They hope to find something you’ll spend your money on. And they will let you get on with your browsing. Not us PoC. When we walk in, we are often told, “can I help you?” with that same smile, but with practice we have learned to see the apologetic wince in the body language that means [sorry, but my bosses tell everyone to shadow you in the store in case you’re a thief]. And since a lot of white people, or white-passing people know this, the store gets robbed by the ones they’re not looking at. Doesn’t matter if you’re not really stealing. You benefit by being treated better just because of how you look.
- Shopping: Walk into a drugstore, a Wal-Mart, a Target, or a supermarket one day and check how many products there are for “everyone” vs how many products there are in the “ethnic hair care and/or cosmetics” section. Doesn’t matter that you like shea butter too. You benefit in that all the products are assumed to be okay for you, and the products marketed to us are a niche. Diversity is an afterthought. In skin and hair and face, you benefit by being treated as the default and the first type any company considers when they choose to whom to market their product.
- Driving: The term “driving while black” is shorthand for the fact that police, if seeing a black person — particularly a man — driving a car they think he should not be able to afford — he’ll get pulled over on suspicion of having stolen it, or only being able to afford it through being a drug dealer. You benefit bybeing able to drive your BMW or Mercedes home without anyone assuming anything about you. Real drug dealers benefit by being able to drive their cars full of cocaine home without being bothered by the police.
- Arrest: If you’re white, you can be as “fight the power” as you like. You benefit by the police being unwilling to knock around anyone white because you never know who has powerful relatives or friends. If you’re a person of color, you gotta go “yes officer” and loudly and politely and cooperate as noisily and clearly as you can, and you better pray somebody is videoing you, because if you sneeze, if you twitch, the police may decide you’re going for a gun and unload their entire clip on you.
- Just existing: Trayvon Martin is a prime example. He was visiting his father in the complex, but George Zimmerman didnt know that. And didn’t care. He also didn’t care that the police told him to not follow the unidentified Person of Color walking home with his hands in his pockets and his hood up (like anyone might in the rain). Mr. Zimmerman was convinced he was protecting his neighborhood from hoods and thieves and just bad black kids. That Japanese college student who turned up at the wrong address for a Halloween party and was shot dead without the homeowner even asking him anything is another good example. And the person who recently shot a Latin@ for daring to use his driveway as a turnaround. Then there’s the esteemed Ivy League professor who got harassed by the police trying to get into his own house. As a person who is or looks white, you benefit by never, ever having to worry that this will happen to you or anyone who looks like you .
- Your education: You can complain all you like about a Black History Month when there are History Months for multiple other White ethnicities and cultures. A quick google search will reveal them. That being said, the shortest month is given to Black People for their history. And our history is ignored entirely except during our month, even though there are Black and African people who have made significant contributions to American Industry, medicine, and countless other fields of study. You benefit by continuing to look good while the accomplishments of PoC (NDN and Latin@ and Asians) all get downplayed, glossed over, or flat out not mentioned at all.
Reproduction: The issue of “choice” aside, white or white-passing people benefit from racism in that you do not have to worry that some doctor will decide to do a tubal ligation on you without your permission. White or white-passing people are not generally put on anti-choice billboards implying that white people are genociding themselves as PoC are.
Health: White and white-passing people will never have to worry about being told their conditions are a result of “ghetto booty”. Whites and white-passing people need not be concerned that their health issues will be scoffed at or ignored.
Entertainment: Whites and white-passing people can get any role in any film, play, or other medium they like. Jewish Henry Winkler played Italian Arthur Fonzarelli. The new TMNT movie has chosen a white actor to play the Japanese Shredder. PoC are relegated to the roles of villains, servants, and buffoons. And this is not a case of “they just chose the right person for the role”. Hollywood will advertise for casting calls, specifying they want “caucasian only”. They don’t offer the opportunity to anyone who isn’t white. And when PoC are cast in heroic roles, or roles that have previously been “white” roles, there is a huge hue and cry because those who are used to the privilege of being the first, the go to, are unhappy that they no longer benefit from that privileged position.
PoC usually show up in certain sports, and when they dare step out of their lane, they are mocked for it. Google “Jamaican bobsled team”. See how the Wiliams sisters are treated. Their response in victory is likened to making gang signs. White people can go into any sport they want and no one will question or challenge them for such audacity.
Religion: Christianity in its many forms, as practised by white and white-passing people is another way in which white and white-passing people benefit from racism. Your sacred ceremonies and meaningful prayers are treated with respect. NDN people were forbidden from practising their religion until the 1940s. PoC churches, even now, in 2013, are treated as tourist attractions for white people with money. And voudoun and other PoC religions are treated as savage and incomprehensible.
City Life: Gentrification. By definition, it means “making fit for the Gentry”. The Gentry are those with high societal position, next-best-thing to royalty. So Gentrifying anyplace means pushing out anyone who isn’t as high, in order to make room for the gentry. That means building up corporate influence, and pushing out PoC from their existing and established communities. So in a gentrified community, whites and those who look white benefit at the expense of PoC.