On Only “Feeling” White When It’s Uncomfortable

I have heard white people say that race bothers them. I have noticed the involuntary spasms of discomfort when black and brown people discuss “sensitive” topics regarding racism and patriarchy in the US. But, I have never had a white person tell me, “I don’t like being called white,” until just recently. Though perplexing, this conundrum points to deeper issues with understanding the boundaries of race in the US.

Anyone who knows me knows that race is something I am unapologetic about. I discuss my blackness freely as I do every other characteristic I hold. I am never ashamed of my upbringing or background. I never contort myself to fit within a stereotypical image projected by mainstream society. And, while I used to do all those things, I am a wholesale believer that authenticity is the only way to bridge racial, sexual, and gender divides in the US.

But, I’m not white.

I am a black woman. My experience with race is my own. The lenses through which I view the racialized world are fitted specifically to my perspectives and colored with my lived experiences. I don’t expect everyone to see race in the way that I do. I especially don’t expect white folks in the US to understand what it means to be black and woman in this day and time. What I do expect, however, is an understanding that race is not a feeling. One doesn’t have to “feel” black to be black. Social inequities in the US clearly articulate the palpable differences for whites and nonwhites. This isn’t really a conversation about how white people “feel” about race. Or is it?

Those intangible feelings folks ascribe to race are actually not the random phenomenon of skin color variation at all. Those sensitivities, discomforts, privileges, and internal rumblings are what happens when a social construct takes on a life of its own.

Let me unpack that a bit. In a sense, our boundaries of citizenship and identity are directly linked to what amounts of our private selves we get to take with us in public. Our hair types and styles, our food preparation and consumption practices, our dialects, our colloqialisms, so on and so forth, are pieces of our private selves that we carry along into interactions with other human beings. And, in that public space, we make race the social construct it is by assigning certain intangibles, mentalities, and propensities to entire social groups based on limited experiences with several members from that group. We create race when we ignore it. We create race when we are adverse to it. In our interracial interactions, we are always, inevitably, reinventing and reconstituting race.

Read the full article at Water Cooler Convos.