I wrote this for one of my classes and I thought I’d share. We were required to write a letter to someone or a group based on the readings we had in class regarding race. Edit: I would like to note that one’s learning and research should not stop with reading the piece that I have cited in this post. We were assigned White Fragility for class, which is why I used it. One should be reading works written by people of color. DiAngelo’s work, in itself, is an example of white privilege and can be condescending. She makes the occasional valid point, but again, people of color have been writing about many of these issues for decades.
Dear White People,
When I was only five years old, unexposed to the realities of the existence of race, you told me that I could not sit at your table because I am brown.
When I was ten, insecure about my body and wishing that my skin tone was just a few shades lighter, you made fun of the hair on my arms.
You tell me that I will never be a Senator (apparently this is okay, though, because you prefaced this statement with “no offense”). You exoticize me because you are fascinated by the way that my brown skin glows or the way that my hair flows as though this is supposed to capture my heart and have me tumble into your love.
You ask me from where I am and I say that I am from Rochester, MN in response. You then say “no, I mean, what is your nationality?” and even though I am American, I know that you are actually asking about my ethnicity, so I reply and say that I am Indian just for you to say that you know an Indian who looks how I look. Your intentions are always correct in your mind, but your impacts have me wondering whether you will ever learn.
The system in which we currently exist is built to benefit you, so your judgement is clouded as you think that it is, in turn, benefiting everyone. As DiAngelo states in White Fragility, “…racism…occurs when a racial group’s prejudice is backed by legal authority and institutional control” (DiAngelo 21). We can all choose to live comfortably and avoid thinking deeply about this, but that in itself is a privilege. In many ways, I have been able to do the same due to my immigrant parents’ hard work in building a well-off family and lifestyle in this country. My mother and father have Doctorates in Physics and Microbiology respectively, but they have entered interview rooms in which their names and skin tones have taken precedence over their accomplishments. This being said, I want to stress the importance of disaggregating race and ethnicity as in a lot of ways, I have lived a very fortunate life. Not all people of color live on the same playing field (within a game that we did not choose to play), and disadvantaged groups exist even within this.
While blatant racism does exist, and some folks, unfortunately, are proud to call themselves racists, anyone can make racist remarks. The comments stated previously were made to me, and to some degree, embedded so deeply into my identity that I have believed them myself at times, by those who claim to be allies and generally act justly upon their allyship. I often struggle to discuss race with my white friends, and other white progressives, because everything can be taken with defense rather than objectively. Bitterness exists within their reactions even if they do not outrightly express it, and this results in me feeling a sense of guilt for even discussing the topic in the first place. DiAngelo draws on this concept by shedding light on the claims that white folks often make to validate their comments or awareness. The parents of the girl who made the comment to me when I was five, and continued to bully me throughout my kindergarten year, claimed that they did not teach their daughter those values, or to be racist, and their apologies were validated. DiAngelo states that “a racism-free upbringing is not possible, because racism is a social system embedded in the culture and its institutions” (DiAngelo 83). Again, the ability to not acknowledge this, and view everything at face value or as an individual situation, is a privilege. Coming to terms with this is difficult, and it all certainly messes with my own mind, but ignorance is not bliss. My identity as a woman of color has been politicized and socialized, but many lives wade in consistent politicization. I choose to be brutally aware of this reality not only for myself, but also for those who face much worse.
I am proud to be a brown woman. A lot of effort has been taken to push past the perceptions that I had of myself while growing. Since white skin is so frequently associated with power, lighter skin tones have always been pushed as “more attractive.” I wished so badly to be just a shade or two lighter. To this degree, I have so often pictured myself marrying a white man as though men of color were less attractive, or less qualified, and have often been submissive to the white men whom I have dated due to this. This is the influence of socialization at work, and my parents along with others in the Indian community took too large of risks, and worked too hard, to challenge it. Advocating for myself is still every day work, and I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunities I have had as this work could have definitely been heavier.
If you truly are an ally, if you truly are progressive, then question the system in which we live. Do not take defense. Ask yourself why you have the perceptions you have, and then push yourself to be uncomfortable enough to unlearn. Empower people of color instead of basking in the power that is always at your fingertips. I do not expect you to be perfect in your acts and comments as I am not even close to being so myself, but people of color deserve to occupy just as much space as you do without being questioned. You did not choose to have or work hard for your whiteness. People of color did not choose their identities either, but they have to fight against the system that disadvantages them every day. DiAngelo mentions the “social taboos against talking openly about race,” (DiAngelo 100) and your participation in dismantling this is key.
DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Beacon Press, 2018.
Some authors of color I recommend reading: Angela Davis, Warsan Shire, Ta-Nehisi Coates