By Martha Wood
A while back, I met up for a play date with another white mother to children of color. As we sat chatting and watching our daughters play, I noticed something about her daughter, next to Annika, and no doubt, she noticed that same thing. And so I said it aloud. Something I’d never noticed about Annika before that day. And since, I have reflected upon it many, many times, wondering exactly what it meant.
“If you put our daughters in a group of black children, nobody would ever guess they were biracial.”
Both of our girls have skin tones similar to the average African American. Both brown eyes. Both, very thick, curly hair.
She nodded. Knowingly.
It was not an amused or casual acknowledgement. We both knew it meant something—for us as well as for our children—although at the time, I’m not sure either of us knew exactly what.
It has never bothered me that my daughter and I have different skin colors. Never. To me, she’s my daughter and I see her on the inside more than I see her on the outside.
People tell me all the time she looks like her dad. Even he doesn’t seem to see me in her face. I don’t really care what she looks like though.
I haven’t passed very much on to her in the way of looks. She has my smile and the shape of my eyes and my cheekbones. But the first thing we see about people is the color of their skin. Their hair. And the shape of their bodies. And then we begin to look into their faces. To see me in my daughter, you have to look into her eyes and gaze down at her face. The only people who will see that will also have to know me.
And that’s the thing I can’t pass on. My whiteness. Not my actual skin color. But what I get because of it. My white privilege. It’s the privilege I have out in the world that gives me a pass that if I were brown, I might not get.
In Tim Wise’s book, White Like Me, he talks about the privileges he received from being white. Things like:
* The ability to get a pass from a professor with little question asked after he missed an exam.
* The knowledge that he would be okay to knock on a stranger’s door late at night if he was lost in an unknown neighborhood.
* Performing illegal activities as a teen/college student, like drinking underage, using a fake I.D. and even doing drugs without much thought to what might happen if the neighbors knew what they were doing.
There are many other things that have to do with white privilege. These are just the beginning of what I worry about.
I did these kinds of things too, as a young woman. And it never occurred to me that anything terrible might happen to me if I were caught. A slap on the wrist perhaps, or maybe a fine to pay.
So, I worry about my daughter. I worry about when she becomes a teen and has grown up in, essentially, a white world. What will happen to her when she does these things, when she isn’t seen with the invisible sleeve of white privilege?
So what is white privilege? It is the reward we get for being white in a society that has historically used skin color as a determination for societal status.
While I listened to the people who said racism still existed, before Annika was born, I never really felt it for certain until I began to raise a daughter. A daughter who will become a woman of color.
I think about all the really immature and irresponsible things I did as a teenager/young adult. And I realize just how unbelievably lucky I have been to escape so many bad things that could have happened to me. Rape. Prison. Death.
I know now that there were situations where had I been a woman of color, perhaps I would not have been so lucky. Perhaps I would have been abused or ignored because I would not have the shield of white privilege.
I’m not saying that all the bad things happen to all the black people and that white people never have bad things happen to them.
But what I’m saying is this.
I wonder what would have happened if I had been black and snuck out of my bedroom window when I was 15; if I had gone walking around my mostly white neighborhood, a block away from a Christian university campus, with white men patrolling and lots of street lights. I was lucky. Perhaps, if I’d been born a child of color and perhaps not lived in such a neighborhood, things would have been different. Or perhaps, someone might have seen me as an opportunity, someone without the protection of white society.
* * *
When you become pregnant and dream of the life you wish for your child, you might imagine all the things you can teach your child. I started out motherhood with a very idealistic and naive view of what I would do for my daughter. It never occurred to me that her life would be taken control of in some ways because of the color of her skin.
I can teach my daughter to be proud in spite of the racism in the world. She need not be defined by her blackness—unless she choses to be.
And while I still believe she can and hopefully will choose to define herself by what is on the inside, I can not escape the knowledge that in our society you don’t always have that privilege when you have brown skin.
Martha Wood is a single, white, female; a work-at-home mom; mother to a biracial daughter. She blogs about race, parenting, single motherhood, and women’s issues at: http://www.momsoap.com ?You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest
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