On Being White

Activity Being Avoided: just about everything. I don’t feel like getting out of this chair today.
Music In My HeadTardigrade Song — Cosmo Sheldrake
Tea Being Drunk: peppermint
Book Being Read: have yet to start a new one.  I had Terry Fallis’ The Best Laid Plans, but ditched it eighteen pages in because 11:00 p.m. is not a time to tolerate appalling writing and editing.

Facts Relevant to this Post:

  • I’m female.
  • I’m short and 10 kilos overweight.
  • I walk with a cane and am deaf in one ear.
  • I have (only) a Bachelor’s degree.
  • I subscribe to a wishy-washy form of Christianity.
  • I’m white.

Most people do not concern themselves with these details, except in specific circumstances (e.g. they want to whisper sweet nothings in my ear or need to reach something on a high shelf). I generally do not concern myself with these details–unless I need to reach something on a high shelf. Of all these details, however, there’s only one that is a problem I can’t overcome: being white.

I should note that my skin isn’t white. E.M. Forster’s pinko-grey is more accurate, though I have an inclination to the British ruddiness from my maternal genes, and summer brings out the blood of whatever Spaniard clearly contributed to my paternal Dutch genes. But as Forster notes, actual skin colour isn’t the issue.

My family, on both sides, is white and middle class. I come from long lines of white people who have had to work for their living, but very few of them have gone without the necessities of life. As far back as I can see, some variety of education, employment, housing, clothing and food have come to my ancestors in exchange for a little hard work. As children, my relatives and I could count on these things; as adults, we provided these for our children, and it isn’t all that difficult because we were given the education, etc. to pull it all together. This is something for which I am extremely grateful. I wouldn’t give up this part of my heritage under any circumstance.

The other parts of being white… those are different.  Some of those I’d have no problem giving up (handing over, donating, throwing on the bonfire).

Why? I had no say in my race. It’s not like I was one of the whites who stepped off the boat and screwed over the people who lived on this land 400 years ago. Yet, I feel guilty for being white because this sometimes ruddy, pinko-grey skin that tans in the summer comes with Privilege.

One privilege I don’t have–but really wish I did–is the ability to deny that any of my relatives were racially motivated in any circumstance. I’m not so stupid as to try to live that deeply in my fantasy world. Were I so inclined, however, reality would give me the slap I deserve.

My mother found this in a glory hole (no, not that kind of glory hole… though there may have been a phallus or two in it) and saw fit to mail it off to me.



You know when you come upon something horrific like a car crash, and you just stare at it, trying to make sense of it? That’s what I did. That’s my great-grandmother’s name on the front, so there was no pretending that it was some weirdo who had just married into the family.

It’s amazing that white people had so much free time that they could come up with such ideas. (Why do I put that in past tense? I don’t know. I shouldn’t. White people are still coming up with such ideas.)

Guilty as I may feel, I can’t change anything in the past. The best I can do is listen to what others are saying and encourage people to talk about it so that the future might not be so horrific. Take heed:


(But, woman, do you really think my ancestors would honour a receipt? The black and white suddenly becomes a thousand shades of grey that one cannot understand without faith, so let us pray for faith.)

2 responses to “On Being White

  1. It was your great great grandmother and she undoubtedly honestly believed she was doing the right thing. And our descendants will think that of many things we have done. ‘Twere ever thus.


  2. Well, at least you are aware of your privilege…most people don’t even give it a second thought.


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