Someone recently asked me “As a social worker, what are your thoughts about the Trayvon Martin shooting?” Now that is a loaded question if I ever heard one. At the time, I was not really keeping up with the George Zimmerman trial. So, I painfully admitted that I am not really knowledgeable about the issue. However, if you know anything about me, I loathe being wrong or not knowing something, so I did bring up the little bit of information that I was aware of. I indicated that no matter what the outcome, I would really like if this trial started some honest conversation about race. Somehow the conversation came to a discussion about power. Now you have to understand, I only had about 15 minutes before the end of my lunch break. Nevertheless, in my always needing the last word and to prove my point (not my most endearing quality), I tried to explain the concept of the indivisible white knapsack. After about 5 minutes of a futile attempt at explaining this knapsack with the explanation of an exercise from Intro to Urban Min, the individual that I was talking with had a pasted smile and mentioned an appreciation for exercises that explain difficult concepts. While I should have taken longer to explain a hard topic to digest, I found myself banging my head off the “don’t talk honestly about issues of race” wall.
Not wanting to be caught unknowledgeable again, I sat down, got my hands on a number of reliable resources and I read everything I could about Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman. By no means am I an expert, but I learned a fair amount of information from the resources that I found. From my perspective, this case is dripping with racial tension. My honest assessment is twofold. First, regardless of who started the fight, George Zimmerman should have never followed Trayvon Martin in the first place. Second, if the racial identities had been switched, there would be no question of guilt at all.
Now, why would I say that? All race issues were fixed in the 1960s and now the real issue is reverse discrimination, right? Had that question been posed to me 2 years ago, my answer would have been a resounding “Yes”.
What I didn’t know for the first 20 years of my life was that I had this devious superpower. I knew that it was there, but I never thought about it. I didn’t have to. I went to school with people like me and teachers like me. I took tests that were designed to test people like me. I played with Barbies and dolls that looked like me. Although I despised going to the hairdresser, I never wondered if she would know how to take care of my hair. Although I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing makeup (stage makeup about did me in), I could easily find a number of different types of makeup to match my skin tone. If I ever needed to find a church, I didn’t ever worry about finding one where I was of the majority if not the only race represented. I never had to worry about language differences, because I grew up speaking some form of Americanized English. I hardly ever stepped outside of my own culture. All I knew was that there were not race issues. Thus, when my mom came home from work one day, saying that she had to endure a painting of black women in the name of diversity that offended her as a woman, I learned about reverse discrimination.
I didn’t realize that people assumed certain things about me because I was a middle class white girl. I didn’t know that I was being brought up to take part in a workforce and culture that belittles the poor, ignores social issues (other than abortion and same sex marriage), belittles or denies racial tension (always ready to defend the white individual) and rules with our ever-present superpower, white skin.
Someone once gave me very wise advice. She looked me in the eye and said, “How long are you going to use that as an excuse?” Although she was talking about me using the excuse of not knowing popular culture, I have since learned that it is good advice in a lot of areas.
Now, I realize that it isn’t fair that something no one has any control gives them superpowers or not. My skin shouldn’t come with any more or less power then anyone else’s. Yet, that’s not the world I live in. I can get away with so many things because I have power in the form of money, natural autonomy because I am just one white person out of a million, and the list goes on. I feel good about myself because I can give to you know, those in need, but never know what it is like to live in an impoverished situation. I can go on missions trips and come back thinking the world is better because I was there (even though I spent a lot of time doing fun activities like going to a waterpark, the movies, the beach, etc.).
I don’t want to hate myself. I am not a bad person. However, everyday I wake up with this white skin and the superpower that comes with it. I can’t help that I was born into a race that lynched people and considered it a family picnic affair. I can’t deny that my racial group enslaved millions of people for hundreds of years. I can’t forget that people from my majority culture used fire hoses on children and adults alike to stop the civil rights movement. It would be a lie to say that my race wasn’t involved in bombing a church, killing children. I can’t deny the fact that minorities such as black and Hispanic individuals are overrepresented in the prison and judicial system. I cannot deny the fact that more threats to assassinate President Obama at his inauguration were made then for any prior US President (all of whom were from my racial identity). I can’t deny that most people in positions of power share my same superpower. I am part of a race that oppresses, ignores, stereotypes and belittles other races all the while denying that such things exist.
If I truly believe that all people were created equal and deserve the same dignity and respect as image bearers of the God I try to follow but often misrepresent, then I cannot fall back on unawareness, simply flow into the life that was set up for me, or sit back and do nothing but type (which I am prone to do and was convicted of when someone posted, “Does your twitter timeline match your lifestyle?”). I will be the first to admit that this is hard for me. As someone recovering from BPD, trauma, and addiction, I often have to deal with my own drama feeling like the world is going to end. It’s hard to engage a world that I am desperately afraid is going to abandon me. Reflexively, it’s hard for the world to engage me when I manipulate people trying to prevent them from abandoning me or frankly, when I just want to control them to get my own way. Yet, I hear the words ringing in my head, “How long are you going to use that excuse?”