Below is a photo of my 6th grade class. I am on the lower left. As you can see, I am one of only 2 white girls and the only blonde SUPER white girl. I grew up in LA and from my view, we were more than racially integrated, I was the minority. Many of my friends growing up were black, hispanic, filipino or mixed. Even so, I was often teased for being white or being skinny or having fuzzy hair and glasses that didn't fit my face. I got used to it. My experience growing up, and what we were taught in school, was that racism was a thing you only read about in history books... thank goodness I would say. Look at us now, I would proclaim triumphantly.
I remember a time when I had one of my best friends over to my house. From the age of 9 I grew up in the white middle class area of the Hollywood hills but I would bus to school into LA proper. We were walking down the curved immaculate street, lined with historic houses, and my sweet friend tossed her empty soda onto the ground. I stopped in shock and made her pick it up. She was shocked as well that it wasn't ok. She said "oh, in my neighborhood that's just what we do." I replied, "well, not in MY neighborhood." I think I mentioned it to my mom and she said that some neighborhoods have so much trash that people just get used to it. It made me sad, confused and angry. I remember feeling sorry for her, but obviously at 9 or 10 years old, I couldn't wrap my head around what that meant or how it was connected to race.
Now, of course, I see the distinction between my racially integrated SCHOOL experience and the day to day REALITY most of my classmates went home to. I think this is how it is possible for so many well intentioned white people to live under the illusion that racism is no longer a thing. Maybe they were raised going to school in a multi cultural area, like I was. Or maybe they had a black friend or two in college. What they, and I, DIDN'T see is how differently they were treated out in the world. What we didn't see is how different their neighborhoods were.. how less safe, how underfunded, how discarded and forgotten. What we didn't see is how black people in particular, were treated differently by policemen or maybe even teachers.
I am not sure why I am writing this, but I found this photo the other day and it sparked something in me. It connected some dots as to how I can feel so at ease with people of color, having grown up with just about every race imaginable in LA, and yet be shocked and surprised that racism is still very much alive. I am over that shock now, instead there is outrage. But it shows me that even one such as I, who considers herself to be as far from racist as one could be, was able to grow up right along side people without realizing their very different reality and experience in the world. It makes me sad to think that some of the people I knew and loved in grade school likely went back to not so safe neighborhoods, or were treated differently just because they had a different skin tone.
I guess I am hoping that some of the white people I know who won't allow themselves to see beyond the bubble of their experience, will take a gander outside and look at the whole picture. If you are a white person and experienced, as I did, a racially integrated growing up, you may think that all is hunky dory because you were picked on for your white skin in school, and so think that white privilege isn't a thing either. But the difference here, is what did you go home to? How were you treated by society? Are you brave enough to look at how others with more melanin were treated beyond your view? Are you brave enough to acknowledge there is a problem, even if you personally don't feel it?
Curious to hear your thoughts. And as always, we are all in this together!