Just had a conversation with someone I care about, who also happens to be white and male. It was regarding white privilege and what needs to happen for people of color (PoC) to prosper to the same degree as most White people. The argument this person made was that he knows many PoC that have sufficient enough money to get themselves into a better situation. I tried to explain that money plays some role, but it is not the end-all when it comes to opportunities for PoC and women, when we live in a society where the “-isms” (ex. Sexism, racism, ageism, etc) and other biases rule.
I’ve had this type of conversation with many people; some White, some PoC, some with an American cultural background, some with a Latino cultural background. The end result is always the same: you cannot convince anyone of anything, unless they have experienced it for themselves. Now, I’ve had plenty of experiences, both good and bad, that I can recount, that have led me to see the “-isms” and the white privilege that exists in our society. Unfortunately, there have been more bad experiences than good, which might explain why I feel the way I do.
Firstly, I want to explain that I don’t want to “convince” anyone of anything. Convince, according to Webster’s dictionary: to cause (someone) to believe that something is true. To me, this implies that the thing you are trying to explain may not actually be true, but you want this other person to believe it. There need be no convincing. The fact of the matter is that racism, sexism, ageism, etc. exist in our society today, and these “-isms” have a profound affect on the decisions people make and whether those people are offered opportunities to live successful, fulfilling lives.
Secondly, the conversation I had and this posting, are my opinion. My opinion based on my experiences which are rooted in fact. As the saying goes “Opinions are like assholes – everyone has one”. This is not to say that the fact of racism, sexism, ageism, etc. does not exist, but rather that, my experiences are situations that occurred due to these “-isms” and they have shaped how I see my world. It does not mean that everyone who feels as I do have had the same experiences, nor that anyone who cannot see my point of view have not had similar experiences. It means that my view of what occurred, my opinion of what happened, can only be explained through the lens of these “-isms”.
Let me tell you one of my experiences:
I moved to Florida when I was 19 years old. At the time, I was still religious and was looking for a church to attend. I went to one close by to where I was living at the time. I believe it was an Episcopalian church. Regardless of the denomination, I felt the need, at the time, to find a place for worship, as that was present in my upbringing and, at that time, I felt it was the “right thing to do”. I walked into this little church, and there was an older man walking along the pews, placing hymnals on the seats. Here’s where the story gets interesting. Those of you that know me, know that I am fairly articulate. I do not speak with an accent (and even so, why would I? Although I am Cuban-American, I was born and raised in the Midwest and mostly around White people) and although I am “mixed”, my skin is olive-toned and I maintain my hair in a more straightened state. Here’s a pic for you to note:
I didn’t look much different back then…maybe a little less wrinkly, but I think you get the idea. Point is, I walked into that church and asked the gentleman “What time are services?” To which the gentleman responded with “We have the English speaking service at 9 am, however, we have an excellent Spanish speaking service at 1 pm.” I remember that I took a moment to digest what he had just said. After thinking I may have misunderstood him, I asked the question again, “Excuse me, you said that services begin at 9 am?” To which he replied, quite kindly, “Yes, our English speaking services are at 9 am, however, we have a very lovely Spanish speaking service at 1 pm.”
I am fairly certain I left with my mouth hanging open. I thanked him and left. But, needless to say, I never attended that church. I even began my quest to become an atheist from that moment on. I had already struggled with religious hypocrisy, but that moment was the pinnacle for my journey on another path, away from religion. That, however, is another story for another day.
This would be my first real experience that I can tie, definitely, to an “-ism”. His response was socially unacceptable, given that nothing I said, asked, or presented, gave any indication that I was anything other than an English speaking woman. Now, does that offend me? Yes, it does. Although, to his credit, he did answer my question, however, his response was meant to direct me to the Spanish speaking service, as opposed to the English speaking service. Why would you think he would want to do that? Given the implicit biases that we all are faced with each day, my only conclusion is that he saw my olive-toned skin and black hair, and immediately assumed I would want the Spanish speaking service. If I had been a blonde Latina with no accent, my assumption can only be that he would have answered my question straight forwardly, rather than with an addendum.
Comment below if you have a story similar to this where you felt as though you were being misdirected or judged for how you looked, versus what you were looking for. And stick around, there are more of these lovely experiences to come.
They are all part of Digame’s Diary – a true story!
Thanks for reading!
Read Part 2 here.