Wednesday, May 07, 2014

What is it like to be white?

I have literally wanted to post the video below for YEARS. But I could never find it online. Then I was in a group on facebook that deals with race, clicked 'like' on another video and then this video popped up as a suggestion. Just like this time, the Universe was working for me--you just gotta pay attention.

I saw this skit when it first appeared on Saturday Night Live. I was about 6 or 7. I probably shouldn't have been watching SNL at that age, mom. ;) . However I will say, I didn't get most of the jokes. But I do remember this skit where John Belushi held up a puppet and said, "Happy birthday, Shiela!" Does anyone else remember that?

Ok, watch the video:

Arrrrrgh, I can't get it to embed, so you're going to have to click here to watch it.

Couple things:

Did you catch the part where he says in order to become white he read Hallmark cards? I feel like that is part of the race problem that doesn't have a whole lot to do with white people. This idea that certain things (that I would consider positive,) are quintessentially white. Like, giving someone a card with a sweet sentiment is not something that a person of color should feel like they can't do if they want to maintain an authentic racial identity. Being interested in school and speaking the King's English would be two more examples. So, if there are any black people reading that put these kinds of limitations on other black people--please stop. If you don't want to stop; please tell me why in the comments so I can understand better where you're coming from.

So, I am pretty sure that this is not what happens when there are no people of color around. But you'll notice I didn't say I'm positive...cuz I'm not. Because logically, everywhere I am, a black person is--so I could always be influencing what is happening. Also, we got to where we are now by white people giving each other preferential treatment for at least 200 years--so it's not like this skit is coming completely out of nowhere.

And that's where you come in, white readers. I don't think you give each other free stuff or have parties on the bus--but how frequently do you hear racist/racish comments from other white people when there are no people of color around? What percentage of white people are actually scarily racist and just savvy enough to control themselves in public? An estimate for both of these answers is fine. Last question: any tips on spotting these people?

That's all for now. And if you're a new reader who got here after my mention on the country's best morning show--Welcome! I'm glad you're here.

And if that's not how you got here--I'm glad you're here too.

Feel free to answer the questions I posed, your reactions to the skit, or just share about anything else that's on your mind in the comments.

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  1. Anonymous7:57 PM

    Well, I have this to say: Eddie .. ok here is where you realize that you're talking to a middle-aged menopausal woman, when I admit that I HAVE FORGOTTEN THE MAN'S LAST NAME .... anyway, y'all know who I mean when I say Eddy was a genius, along the lines of Chris Rock and Richard Pryor. I think you're missing the point with the Hallmark cards reference. Hallmark cards are written by idiots for idiots. My brothers and I used to relentlessly mock their treacly sentiments. I've been following your blog for a while, and, yes, I am white. As to your question, what kinds of comments about black people do I hear when there are no black people around to hear them? I am finding that that really depends on what part of the country in which I am located. I spend half the year in Massachusetts (Boston, Cambridge, wealthy North Shore towns) and half the year in Chester, Va. Rarely if ever hear comments about black people when I am in unmixed company in Massachusetts, but I do hear constant undercurrent of disapproval while I am in Va. Lots more suspicion and outright dislike and disapproval of black people in Va than in Mass.

  2. Anonymous8:24 PM

    Also, re Eddie Murphy being a genius ... we don't have bus parties, but the scene that took place in the bank was eerily prescient, in light of the recent mortgage scandals that have come to light where POC were directed to really poor mortgage plans. Although the skit would have been making reference to redlining scams of the 1970s and 80s.

  3. Shannonigans11:15 AM

    This blog is awesome, first of all. And I love getting your updates through FB. I'm always reading but rarely commenting. On this one I just had a thought. I wonder if you could change the title to "What is it like t be part of the majority?" I know of course that you're talking about race relations in America so you definitely have the right title. I've lived all over the country and I've noticed that in most conversations people don't realize we're making a racist comment until someone points it out! Also, the people who are "scarily racist" are easy to point out because they're generally angry. Because like Yoda says "fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to" complete absorption in out our own prejudices.

  4. I live in a predominanty white, upper middle class, Republican community, and yeah, there is subtle and not-so-subtle racism - and classism! - going on. I have friends who will make comments about "the apartment dwellers" and "the English language learners," and I think that they think they're being helpful or . . . I don't know, observant or something? It often makes me cringe. And I will admit that I'm a coward who cringes in silence for the most part :(